The dangers presented by Line 5 have long been recognized. Its operation has been challenged by Indigenous leaders from all 12 federally-recognized tribes in Michigan. The 1836 Treaty of Washington—signed one year before Michigan became a state—guarantees the Anishinaabe people, Ojibwe, and Odawa tribes in particular, permanent rights to to hunt, fish, and gather on any ceded land and water. The members of the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority have fought for generations to uphold the terms of this treaty. But the state of Michigan chose only recently to heed its obligations relative to the special danger posed by continued operation of Line 5:
Last November [of 2020], Gov. Whitmer revoked the easement that allows the pipelines to operate, and ordered Enbridge to halt oil transport by May [of 2021]. Cited in the revocation, for the first time in the history of Line 5, Michigan’s administration officially acknowledged nearly 200-year-old Indigenous Chippewa [Ojibwe] and Ottawa [Odawa] treaty rights as one of the reasons to shut down the pipeline project and protect Great Lakes ecology and fisheries.
While the general public, even within Michigan, still remain relatively uninformed about Line 5, tribal leaders are very clear about what is at stake in this particular struggle. Whitney Gravelle, an attorney and the current president of the Bay Mills Indian Community—one of the tribal organizations in the forefront of the fight against Line 5—wrote this op-ed published recently in Newsweek, “On Indigenous Peoples Day, Let's Discuss Big Oil's War on Native Rights”:
Although Tribal Nations control just 2 percent of all land in the U.S., these lands hold about $1.5 trillion in untapped fossil fuels—around a third of the country's coal, methane gas, and oil. Fossil fuel companies are impatient to extract, transport, and sell all of it before the renewable energy transition puts them out of business, and tribes like mine are getting in their way. The treaties we signed with the U.S. government give many tribes the right to preserve what has always been sacred to us: lands, waters, and wildlife. Although these rights are often ignored, they are a real and important source of power.
My tribe—Bay Mills Indian Community's fight against Line 5 is a case in point. Line 5 is a crumbling pipeline that cuts through our ancestral lands in upper Michigan as it delivers 23 million gallons of crude oil and methane gas daily. After causing the largest land-based oil spill in U.S. history, oil giant Enbridge is now seeking permits to extend Line 5's life by building a tunnel underneath the Straits of Mackinac. Enbridge's untested tunnel design carries the serious risk of explosion, potentially contaminating the world's largest freshwater stronghold. If state and federal agencies grant Enbridge permission, the tunnel project would also lock in climate-warming fossil fuel production for the next century. Line 5 is not just an affront to treaty rights, but to our existence, too.
Adding our voices to those calling for a truly wide-ranging and comprehensive EIS and speaking out against construction of a Line 5 tunnel is a fitting and powerful example of a win-win-win situation. To do so helps honor tribal sovereignty and reinforces the ability of Indigenous people to control what happens on tribal lands and waters. By supporting enforcement of these major treaty obligations, we not only shore up the rule of law but we also defend the right to self-determination of Indigenous people—a matter of local and global significance to us all. We strengthen our collective ability to resist the tactics of extraction and plunder that Big Oil wants to apply to the very last drop. And, in the instance of Line 5, we help protect one particularly precious ecosystem and all the people, near and far, Indigenous and not, who depend on its health and integrity.
Additional information on Shut Down Line 5 activism:
As we treat water, so we treat ourselves. Please sign the petition, inform yourself about other efforts to oppose
Enbridge’s efforts to despoil the planet, and connect with local organizations listed above that have come together to amplify the call to shut down Line 5.
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