Defendants continue carrying hundreds of charges for peacefully resisting
Enbridge’s reckless damage to Minnesota’s environment
Today dozens of Indigenous leaders, backed by celebrities including Jane Fonda, Mark Ruffalo, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and the Indigo Girls, as well as over 100 organization and business leaders from Minnesota and beyond, released a letter [being published on https://www.dropline3charges.com] asking the Walz-Flanagan Administration, county prosecutors, and Minnesota leadership to:
Do everything in your power to support dropping the charges against water protectors. For any charges not dropped, we specifically call on the Walz-Flanagan Administration, under Minn. Stat. § 8.01, to appoint Attorney General Ellison as special prosecutor for the most egregious cases, including those in which the State is extending inconsistent plea offers to water protectors.
Over 750 people were arrested – some of them multiple times – and hit with thousands of criminal charges during the peaceful resistance to the Line 3 tar sands pipeline in 2021. Some were also hit with rubber bullets, pepper balls, and hands-on “pain compliance” – human rights abuses that were addressed by two UN agencies, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.
300 Cases Remain Open Including Highly Questionable Felony Charges
About 300 of the cases against Indigenous water protectors and other Line 3 defendants remain open, including dozens of highly questionable felonies. Excessive felony charges have included “attempted assisted suicide” for defendants who entered empty pipes during protests (and left very much alive), and “theft” of both the pipeline and “time.” Although a number of these were dropped or dismissed in various jurisdictions, similar charges remain in other counties. One fifth-generation Aitkin County resident, Shanai Matteson, faces a jury trial in mid-July for allegedly “conspiring, aiding and abetting criminal trespass on critical public infrastructure pipeline” at an event she did not attend.
The charges stem from an unprecedented arrangement in which the Canadian multinational Enbridge corporation paid Minnesota state and local law enforcement more than $8.6 million to arrest, subdue and surveille community members resisting the Line 3 tar sands pipeline, which was hurriedly built in 2021 even as legal challenges by tribal governments and community groups were pending. The single largest recipient of these reimbursements was Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Meanwhile, nearly 100,000 people have signed a petition to the Walz-Flanagan Administration with the same request. Drop the Charges and Flood the Courts rallies have been held at multiple courthouses, including in Duluth, Hubbard, Aitkin, Itasca, Carlton and Wadena counties. While exiting jail and being greeted by supporters in Pennington County, some people were re-arrested without explanation.
Allies of the defendants argue those accused of interfering with construction were supporting treaty rights, protecting the global climate, and attempting to prevent Enbridge’s reckless construction practices that resulted in multiple aquifer breeches and “frac-outs” – spills of drilling fluid in delicate, pristine ecosystems, including the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Enbridge continues to face legal challenges for this misconduct.
Dozens of Cases Dropped in Hubbard County; Some Moved to Tribal Court
It appears the pressure to drop charges is having some effect. Defendants and their supporters say that in the last month alone, dozens of cases have either been dropped, or resolved on “stays of adjudication.” All but 64 of 441 Hubbard County cases are closed. Aitkin County has the highest remaining open case count (78).
Still, eight months after oil started flowing through Line 3, more than 300 people are still dealing with charges. Two dozen face felonies they say were trumped up after peaceful protests; Indigenous women and supporters who claim they are entitled to exercise – and obligated to enforce – treaty rights.
Defendants claim it was often law enforcement who abused rights and behaved violently toward them – and toward the land that agencies like the DNR are charged with protecting. While the arrests of Indigenous Water Protectors infringed on treaty and first amendment rights, some of those cases are being heard in tribal court, even as legal teams argue all Indigenous cases should be transferred there.
Quotes from Ojibwe Indigenous Leaders
Tara Houska, Giniw Collective Founder, tribal attorney, Couchiching First Nation Citizen“Though the news cycle has largely forgotten the brave folks who stood up for Anishinaabe treaty territory against Line 3 tar sands, we have not. I hope the Governor and Attorney General haven’t either, because we remember their inaction as we were surveilled, harassed, and in some cases tortured by police and Minnesota’s DNR who have billed over $8.6M in Enbridge funds at this point. There’s something they can still do, at this time — for those of us still in Minnesota’s courts, for those of us facing disparate treatment by county attorneys and sometimes outrageous charges like felony assisted suicide and felony theft: appoint AG Ellison to these cases, show us that equity matters. We stood up for your water, for your children. Stand up for us.”
Winona LaDuke, Honor the Earth Executive Director, Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg of the White Earth Reservation Enrollee“As defendants young and old, of all races and many places start heading to trial, this letter asks Minnesota to drop the charges, or at least appoint the attorney general to the most egregious. There were over 1000 Enbridge-funded arrests of people standing with us, trying to stop the tar sands giant from doing exactly what they did: cause profound and permanent damage to our beloved waters. Who is the criminal here, and who is enabling that criminal to get away, while prosecuting the real heroes?”
Taysha Martineau, Camp Migizi Founder, Water Protector and MMIW Activist, Gitchigumi Scouts Co-Founder, Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Anishinaabe “Our communities are built upon the backs of people who fought for change. We owe it to those who have sacrificed to honor those willing to create change by means of direct action.”