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'We are not violent': LaDuke clarifies position on camps

"Our people are — a lot of them — mothers, children, professionals, tribal people," said Winona LaDuke, co-founder and executive director of environmental justice organization Honor the Earth. "We are not violent, and we don't intend to be violent."

She was responding to claims about camps being set up in preparation for the Enbridge Line 3 replacement project — claims, on both sides of the controversy over the oil pipeline, that such camps represent a threat of violence.

On June 19, Minnesotans for Line 3 issued a news release, claiming that LaDuke's testimony on June 18 before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) was "emotional fear mongering combined with completely false statements." The pro-pipeline group denied LaDuke's claims about seeing "man-camps" preparing to build the Line 3 replacement.

Minnesota for Line 3 founder Bob Schoneberger accused LaDuke of planning "a protest camp for Minnesota activists and those traveling from out of state" near Park Rapids. Schoneberger predicted that these protesters would bring violence and disorder to the area in order to stop the pipeline project.

"The risk to our workers is real," Schoneberger said. "These camps and what they represent are a real threat to communities."

On June 29, LaDuke told Minnesota Public Radio that she has purchased land near Park Rapids for a camp to "provide educational workshops on the value of our water and Ojibwe culture."

Speaking to the Enterprise on Thursday, LaDuke affirmed that her organization owns 80 acres on Hinds Lake, south of Park Rapids.

"It's really a culture and education camp," she said. "We are going to have a feast, probably in Hubbard, in the next few weeks and invite people to come and meet water protectors."

The precise date and location of LaDuke's open house are yet to be determined.

"People should just come out and meet us and listen to these people's stories," she said. "Some of them come from places where you can't drink the water anymore, like Pennsylvania. Some of them are from Minnesota, our tribal members. We really want people to meet us. That's the big thing. We want people to see what kind of people we are. We're like a lot of people from here, and a lot of us are from around here."

LaDuke agreed that if disorder happens around the pipeline project, her people will likely be blamed more than the other side. Nevertheless, she contested the idea that the threat of violence comes from her supporters.

"We're pursuing all the regulatory and legal challenges," she said. "We intend to work as hard as we can to defeat the pipeline project."

Recalling the Dakota Access pipeline protests in North Dakota, LaDuke said, "We did not have any weapons. When the security dogs were put on our people, I called Enbridge and said, 'You need to pull them off.' When they started militarizing, I asked Linda Coady (chief sustainability officer for Enbridge, Inc.) to please start de-militarizing the situation, and they did nothing. I do not want to be blamed."

"Now we have angry pipeliners, who want a pipeline and feel entitled to that," she said. "It's getting a lot more aggressive."

Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Smith clarified, "The Dakota Access pipeline project was started, owned and built and is now being operated by a different company, not Enbridge."

In February 2017, Enbridge did purchase a $1.5-billion minority stake in the Dakota Access pipeline, but Smith added, "We still do not operate that pipeline."

Regarding LaDuke's recollection of calling Enbridge, Smith said Enbridge has "engaged" with LaDuke. "There have been those conversations that have taken place," she said. "We continue to offer to engage with Winona and discuss her concerns and questions."

Climate of debate

Smith responded to LaDuke's contention that the PUC made a bad decision. "We understand that there are people who disagree with the project and the decision for the commissioners to approve it," said Smith. "We understand it was a challenging decision for them. At the bottom, we see this is all a concern about protecting the environment. On that point, from the beginning, we've been very clear. The Line 3 pipeline has integrity issues. It needs to be replaced. For us, that is the best and quickest way to protect the environment and the communities, while continuing to transport and provide the product that we all use every single day."

Smith said Enbridge aims to engage with stakeholders' views on issues related to the pipeline replacement. "We place a top priority on respecting the views of all communities, including the tribes," she said, "and we'll continue to do that throughout the process. We still have a number of permits to obtain before we get the full authorization to construct. We want to continue to talk through these issues and see how we can work with these groups."

On the other hand, she said, "Safety is a priority for us. We're also committed to protecting our employees and our contractors, but we always prefer dialog. We respect others' opinions. We respect their rights to protest and voice their opinion in different ways, as long as they are safe and legal."

Responding to Schoneberger's skepticism about man-camps, LaDuke clarified her previous claims about workers setting up in advance for pipeline work.

"I saw people coming in," she said, "and some of those people were definitely from the fracking fields. They made me feel nervous. I've had a lot of people attacking me. I went and talked to the sheriff and said I felt threatened. I said these are the kind of people who come to man-camps. My point is that people are coming in. In Superior, there were a large number of pipeline workers at one of the trailer parks. I've seen them."

Referring to the Ojibwe White Earth Reservation, she said, "I've been a resident of this reservation for most of my life. I'm from here. I'm not going anywhere. I'm not a transient. I don't want to be threatened."