This guest column is by Winona LaDuke, an activist who lives and works on the White Earth reservation.
Recently, I attended the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council meeting. That meeting, convening the elected tribal leaders of the 11 Dakota and Anishinaabe nations in Minnesota, is a time when Native governments meet with state agencies and state governments. What I saw made me proud to be in Minnesota today. That’s because agencies were talking to tribal governments collectively, giving updates on programs which concern Dakota and Anishinaabe people, and reporting on collaborations. That’s the way things should work. We all drink the same water and breathe the same air, so we should talk.
The Gov. Tim Walz administration is working hard to repair past relationships with tribes. It’s about time. After all, the state has some prickly history with the first nations as state leaders like Knute Nelson and others orchestrated the transfer of large tribal holdings to state and federal agencies. That conflict continues to have deep impacts on the Native and non-Native community. Over the years, the Indian Wars have cost tax payers millions of dollars in lawsuits against tribal governments. It’s a good time to re-evaluate the Indian Wars.
Tribal and state agencies interact all the time, from tribal licensing to natural resource management, gaming compacts and health and human services. The fact is that we are all intending to work for the collective good of the people who live here, omaa akiing, on this land. I want to thank Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan for strengthening this.
At the recent Minnesota Indian Affairs Council meeting, Flanagan came to meet with the tribes, followed by representatives from every state agency, in a remarkable show of cooperation and good governance. Retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Paige came to share about his charity work with the tribes. Wayzeytawin and other traditional Dakota women leaders came to talk about land that they had been able to get returned to the Dakota people. They also asked for support from the MIAC to secure an exemption from state building codes for Indigenous housing and building structures. All good work in community building.
The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council passed a resolution opposing HF 2241 and HR File 2966, bills which would increase penalties for protests near pipelines and critical public service facilities. It was unanimous. Called the Anti Protest bills, this legislation mirrors similar legislation (The Anti Rioting act) which South Dakota’s governor passed in 2019, only to have the federal court overturn the law as unconstitutional.
In a concerted national effort, the fossil fuel industry put mirror bills into rapid circulation, often using the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council. Koch, Marathon Petroleum, Enbridge, and their trade associations lobbied for similar bills in Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin. The Wisconsin bill passed.
In total, Enbridge, Koch, Marathon Petroleum, their subsidiaries, and their trade associations have spent a combined $17,473,500 in 2017 and 2018 to influence the Minnesota government. The 17 co-sponsors of SF 2011 and HF 2248 received a total of $25,285 in political contributions from oil, gas, electric utility and railroad companies. Each of these industries is named in the bill’s definitions of “critical public service facility,” “pipeline” or “utility.” The bills pose serious threats to First Amendment rights and directly target Native people who are particularly impacted by the pipeline proposals.
Over 68,000 people came out and testified against the proposed pipeline, only just over 3,000 for the pipeline project, yet the Minnesota PUC in early February once again approved all the permits for Line 3, forcing the tribes and citizens of Minnesota once again to revert to the court. Recently, two major pipeline projects did not move ahead: the New York Constitution Pipeline was cancelled, and the Jordan Cove Pipeline is on the regulatory rocks. Finally, the single largest new proposed tar sands mine project—the TECK Frontier Mine—died in late February. TECK Resources pulled the plug on the project, referring to climate change and economics as the justification.