The White Earth Tribal Council and Honor the Earth Executive Director Winona LaDuke gathered Friday morning at the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen to publicly ask state officials and President Joe Biden honor tribal treaty rights.

The group called for Enbridge Line 3 work to be halted and all water permits that allow Enbridge to pump billions of gallons of water out of drought-stricken lakes and rivers in the 1855 Treaty Territory be suspended. Low water levels could cause permanent damage to wild rice beds.

The White Earth flag
The White Earth flag

“We have spoken to the commissioner of the DNR and did make a specific request to suspend those water permits related to the pipeline,” said White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Alan Roy. “Unfortunately, she had declined that request.”

Roy then said that the federal government has a trust responsibility to tribal nations in the United States. “They have trust responsibility that these resources are protected for us and our children in seven generations from now.”

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LaDuke said she is calling on Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan to stand up for water and the Anishinaabeg people.

“There has been a total dereliction of trust responsibility duties by the federal government and state government,” said LaDuke. “There has been mismanagement in the 1855 Treaty Territory.” She said there are rivers at 25% water capacity “and you have allowed Enbridge to take three billion more gallons of water out of already dry rivers, affecting our wild rice, medicinal plants, shelled creatures and fish? That is wrong...”

“Manoomin (wild rice) is our most important spiritual, sacred and central part of our culture,” said 1855 Treaty Authority Executive Director Frank Bibeau. “It’s being starved out from water and being starved out by its nutrients.”

Enbridge strongly disagreed with the tribe’s characterization of the situation.

“First, the permit in question does not involve ‘taking water’ but refers to dewatering excavations and the pipeline trench,” said Enbridge spokeswoman Juli Kellner. “The increased volume relates to site-specific conditions encountered along the excavated trench, and the increased use of well point systems as required by permit conditions.”

Well point dewatering produces cleaner water, but also involves larger volumes of water than traditional sump pump systems, she added. Groundwater removed from the trench is immediately discharged back into the surrounding area and allowed to infiltrate. “Therefore, it will not reduce the amount of available groundwater in any given area.”

She also noted that Line 3 was routed specifically to avoid Upper and Lower Rice Lake.

“Also, we are not taking water from wild rice waters,” Kellner said. “Our construction plans specifically protect wild rice waters. Enbridge pipelines have coexisted with the most productive wild rice waters in Minnesota for 70 years.”