Red Lake Tribal Members Occupy Illegal Enbridge Pipeline on Their Land

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Tessa McLean, Anishinaabe

What happens when you’ve had enough of oil companies illegally passing pipelines through your tribal land? You practice self-determination and your sovereign rights to occupy that land. That is exactly what a group of Red Lake Tribal members are doing.

In a small town called Leonard in northern Minnesota, a traditional camp has been set up by Red Lake tribal members, allies and supporters. Lodging is in a tipi and a sacred fire is burning 24/7. The occupation started Thursday afternoon, February 28th and is still going strong today, Sunday, March 3rd. There is a safety law concerning oil pipelines that states nothing or no one can be above a pipeline for 72 hours or the pipeline will have to be shut off. The occupation is seeking to stop the oil flowing through their pipeline, for good. The 72-hour mark passed today, but no pipelines were turned off.

In talking to a few of the Red Lake tribal members, they explained this occupation is purely against the Enbridge Company and its pipeline. There are no ulterior motives here except to stand in solidarity with the First Nations Cree who are facing blatant environmental destruction on their homelands caused by the Canadian Tar Sands. Some of the oil running through the veins of this pipeline come from the tar sands region. Tar sands oil is sent to Minneapolis, MN, one of many cities refining the bitumen oil and is dispersed across the nation through several different pipelines,this Enbridge pipeline being one of them.

Two years ago, this very Enbridge pipeline had an oil spill in Deer River, Minnesota, just an hour and half east of the Leonard occupation site. Efforts to clean the oil spill have been insufficient; a picture of the spill site from earlier this year showing black tar over the pipes (see below). Environmental destruction isn’t racist, this isn’t just an Indian thing, when oil spills into the water and into the earth, those toxins and poisons aren’t going to choose who to hurt, everyone’s door will be knocked on. We cannot let these pipelines exist on Indian land, or any land. Spills are inevitable.

In visiting and talking about the pipeline, one of us asked, “How far below is the pipeline buried? ” The response was ‘three feet.’ Laws say that oil pipelines with millions of gallons of toxic chemicals rushing through them are only required to be buried at least three feet underground. Thinking even further, we realized that even a human grave is required to be six feet underground. Think about it, we have pipelines with all kinds of benzene chemicals, known carcinogens, close to the dirt we walk on- the dirt our children play on- while those we love are even further underground because of the dangerous formaldehyde. Visiting even further, we discovered this Enbridge pipeline runs through water, through Red Lake waterways and the Cass Lake to be precise. If the pipeline is followed even further east of the town of Cass Lake, one would find exposed pipeline in swamp wetlands. This pipeline is dangerous and needs to be shut down.

Tonight, the Red Lake occupation site had many friendly faces, Red Lakers, White Earth people, non-native allies and supporters were present; everyone was visiting and eating around the fire, telling stories, asking questions about the pipelines. One young man brought his drum out this evening and sang round dance sounds around the sacred fire; it was a proud time to be Anishinaabe and a proud time to be a supporter of the Red Lake Nation.

To follow the struggle against the illegal Enbridge pipeline, you can use #RLblockade on twitter. Any media inquiries can be directed to Marty Cobenais at

The traditional camp is accepting wood donations, they can be dropped off in Leonard, MN at the site or donations can be sent to for wood and supplies.