Wadena County prosecutor drops final charge against Winona LaDuke in 'Shell River Seven' pipeline case

As Enbridge crews drilled under the Shell River, LaDuke and five other women sat in lawn chairs on the banks of the river, chained to one another in protest of the threats posed by construction.

Winona LaDuke speaks during the demonstration program at the headwaters of the Mississippi River during the Treaty People Gathering, which voiced concerns over the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline on June 7, 2021.
Michael Achterling / Tribune

WADENA — A Wadena County prosecutor on Thursday dismissed the last remaining misdemeanor charge in the criminal case against the co-founder and former executive director of Honor the Earth, Winona LaDuke, for her role in the “Shell River Seven” protest in July 2021.

According to a news release from Media Savant Communications Co, a Twin Cities public relations firm, the “Shell River Seven” were prosecuted for peacefully standing up against the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline in July 2021, which crossed the river and many other waterways through 1855 Treaty Territory .

As Enbridge crews drilled under the Shell River, LaDuke and five other women sat in lawn chairs on the banks of the river, chained to one another in protest of the threats posed by construction, which occurred during a period of extreme drought and threatened endangered mussels and other river life, critical drinking water, and the sovereign treaty-reserved rights of Anishinaabe people.

The six women and an independent photojournalist were arrested and identically charged with two counts of gross misdemeanor trespass and one count of misdemeanor obstruction, and pleaded not guilty. LaDuke spent three days behind bars after the arrest (her co-defendants spent 2), and wrote a Letter from the Wadena County jail .

The Shell River Seven event was memorialized in a music video documentary based on a song by Steve Van Zandt, sung by Jackson Brown.


The charges against LaDuke’s six co-defendants were dismissed in October and November 2022, but the Wadena County Attorney continued to pursue charges against LaDuke, prompting criticism that she was being targeted for her high-profile leadership prior to and during Line 3 construction. She was the only Anishinaabe member of the Shell River 7, as well as the Guardian ad litem of the river, as appointed by the White Earth Nation.

As the last remaining Shell River Seven defendant, LaDuke was scheduled to go to trial in June in Wadena. Nearly two years after the incident, the Wadena County prosecutor has finally dismissed the case, which follows a spate of other recent Line 3 Water Protector legal victories in April:

  • In Aitkin County, several Line 3 Water Protector cases have been dismissed in the past two weeks, including a similar case involving two trespass charges against LaDuke which was dismissed by the Court for lack of probable cause. 
  • On Tuesday, April 25, Clearwater County dismissed all charges against  10 remaining defendants cited for trespass after engaging in a ceremonial treaty encampment known as Fire Light. This Anishinaabe-led encampment blocked construction for eight consecutive days at the upstream Mississippi River drill site of Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in June of 2021. 
  • Of the hundreds of people who participated in the Fire Light Encampment, 51 were arrested. Native defendants were transferred into the jurisdiction of White Earth Tribal Court and subsequently had their charges dismissed for lawfully exercising treaty-reserved rights and acting within Rights of Manoomin statutes codified by the White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians.
  • On Thursday, April 27, a Pennington County jury found a Line 3 Water Protector defendant not guilty, following a two-day trial on criminal allegations of misdemeanor obstruction.
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