Early Wednesday afternoon, a large crowd formed in front of the barricaded Capitol building for a rally to protest construction on Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline. Dozens of tipis dotted the lawn behind them along with tents offering first aid, legal support, and burritos. “We’re here in ceremony,” said Nancy Beaulieu, a founder of the Resilient Indigenous Sisters Engaging Coalition while addressing the crowd. “We’re here to assert our treaty rights and our right to exist and our right to clean water.”
City dwellers, out-of-town visitors, and water protectors fighting the pipeline up north came to hold space and build momentum as pipeline construction surpasses 90 percent. The sprawling tar sands pipeline would carry more than 750,000 barrels of oil each day across multiple treaty lands, fragile wild rice beds and hundreds of water bodies.
Supporters claim it will deliver oil more safely and reliably than the deteriorating pipeline that it will replace, which was built in the 1960s. Opponents cite an urgent need to keep oil in the ground in the face of climate catastrophe. “There’s no water in our rice lakes. We’re in a drought,” said Taysha Martineau, Two Spirit Indigenous activist and Fond Du Lac Band member. This summer, the DNR issued a permit allowing Enbridge to pump nearly 5 billion gallons of water, 10 times the original amount the company had requested. “These people let them,” they said, gesturing toward the Capitol.
Another legislative path to halt construction crumbled on Tuesday, when the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to last year’s decision by the Public Utilities Commission. Activists are still calling for a federal environmental impact report on the impact the pipeline will have when oil starts flowing. Many want more from elected officials running on platforms of urgent climate action.
“I don’t trust you,” said Jaike Spotted Wolf, member of the Three Affiliated Tribes from North Dakota, while on stage addressing legislators who spoke earlier in the afternoon. Spotted Wolf hopes to win this battle with “people power”. Nearly 900 have been arrested while protesting the pipeline up north this year, often blocking access or locking down to equipment in order to delay construction.
As scheduled speakers wrapped up, Indigenous activists urged the crowd to stay on the Capitol lawn, where they hoped to have ceremonies through the night and hold space indefinitely.
Just before 10 p.m. over one hundred protestors migrated from the Capitol building down to the south lawn at the direction of law enforcement. Tension hung in the air as squad cars circled the perimeter and empty unmarked buses drove toward the Capitol. The crowd ceremoniously thanked a small group of water protectors who wrapped up a 256-mile walk from the Mississippi Headwaters to St. Paul earlier in the day. Drums and songs carried on softly and steadily.
Easily visible from this end of the grassy knoll, the scattered tipis stood still and tall, serving as a visual reminder of this land’s history. The Capitol building’s lit-up facade starts to look garish, even menacing in comparison, though maybe it’s the chain link fence.
Around 1:30 a.m., police informed the crowd that tents were not allowed, and the few that had been brought out were swiftly packed away. Some crawled into sleeping bags, wrapped themselves in blankets grabbed from cars parked nearby, or sat around the border of the lawn sipping coffee.
The next morning, the crowd woke up in front of the Capitol, and intend to stay for as long as necessary.
The permit for the 15 tipis expired Thursday evening and by Friday morning, just one remains centered on the Capitol lawn. Water protectors plan to attempt a 38-day occupation there, representing each chief killed in the 1862 massacre.
Many fear the worst if construction finishes as planned this fall. Pipelines often leak and Line 3’s parent company, Enbridge, is responsible for the largest inland oil spill in the U.S. which took place near Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
“We have made promises to generations not yet here that we will be good stewards of this land,” Martineau said near the end of Wednesday night’s rally. “The fight that we’re in here is the fight for humanity.”