Opposition in the streets: Activists gather in downtown Bemidji to protest Line 3

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More than two dozen people were cited as about 100 people gathered and blocked streets in downtown Bemidji on Wednesday in opposition of the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project.

The dozens of activists gathered shortly before 12:30 p.m. and marched from the Rail River Folk School to the intersection of Third Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue Northwest, where they stood in a square set off by four large banners in the middle of the crossing.

Group members in bright vests instructed passing cars to take other routes and bypass the demonstration, while protesters chanted, drummers sang and women in jingle dresses danced in the street.

"We're here to say 'no' to Line 3," said Margaret Levin, state director of the Sierra Club, a nationwide environmental organization that helped organize Wednesday's rally. "We're asking Gov. Dayton to halt the new Line 3 pipeline and we're here to hold space, to hear voices, to hear stories of people who are directly affected by this project."

Group members remained sitting at the intersection with banners reading "Cut off the head of the black snake" and "Rise to protect our water communities & climate" placed on the ground.

"We are at a critical point where the governor has a choice and has the ability to halt this project, to make sure that concerns continue to be heard and that it does not move forward," Levin said. "Right now is a critical time and a critical place."

While the dozens of activists stood at the Bemidji intersection, another group gathered at Dayton's office in St. Paul with live-streamed video of the Bemidji event.

At about 1:30 p.m., the Bemidji Police Department blocked off multiple streets at the intersections of Third Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue; Third Street Northwest and Minnesota Avenue and Second Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue. And shortly after 3 p.m. Police Chief Mike Mastin told the crowd to disperse, saying that anyone present after 10 minutes could be arrested or cited.

Shortly after Mastin issued the dispersal order, Beltrami County deputies and Minnesota State Patrol officers also arrived at the scene. Mastin issued five warnings before officers began to issue citations.

A core group refused to move from the main protest spot, linking arms as they sang, danced and chanted in the middle of the intersection. At about 3:40 p.m. police and Beltrami County deputies began to escort small groups of people to police cars, where they were cited.

Twenty-six people were cited for disorderly conduct and no one was arrested, according to Mastin. About 20 law enforcement officials were on the scene.

"Our goal is for it to remain peaceful, we didn't want to have to arrest anybody," Mastin said. "Overall, I think it went well. Nobody got hurt."

PUC grants certificate

The new Line 3 — set to replace a 50-year-old pipeline that Enbridge Energy Co. says is outdated and unsafe — will carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada, through northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis.

Environmentalists and members of nearby tribes oppose the plan, citing concern or spills; the proposed route would run through land that activist group Honor The Earth says includes "irreplaceable wild rice lakes and rivers" with cultural significance to the Chippewa.

In June, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission granted the project a certificate of need. Two routes are now being considered for the pipeline. One would travel through the Fond du lac reservation and follow existing pipelines, the other would go around the reservation, through ceded treaty lands.

Two groups, Honor the Earth and Friend of the Headwaters, challenged the project's Environmental Impact Statement in court this month. Honor the Earth's Executive Director Winona LaDuke said at Wednesday's rally that the PUC made a "rogue decision" in granting the certificate of need.

"I'm going to do everything in the regulatory and legal arena to stop this pipeline, and then I'm hoping that I don't have to put my 59-year-old body on the line, but I'm going to do that,' LaDuke said. "We did all the legal and regulatory action and we intend to increase the amount of people that are standing there opposing the line."

A statement from Enbridge provided to the Pioneer on Wednesday evening called the Line 3 replacement project "essential for Minnesotans."

"We respect people's right to express their views safely and in accordance with the law. It's important to know that the groups protesting have, in some cases, participated in Minnesota's very robust regulatory review process for the Line 3 Replacement Project," the statement said. "The best way to protect Minnesota's environment and ensure we get the energy we use in the State is to replace Line 3."

One of the organizer of Wednesday's rally, Renee Gurneau, connected pipelines with disproportionate violence against Native American women. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one in three Native women reports having been raped during her lifetime.

"Wherever there is extracted energy, the violence against Native women rises exponentially," Gurneau said. "When the earth becomes objectified and commodified then so do we. That is actually the foundation of capitalism."