Dozens of protesters flowed over a Line 3 construction site on Thursday, July 1 in the Park Rapids area.

According to a media release on behalf of the Giniw Collective, an Indigenous women-led environmental protection group, construction was halted as a Native matriarch locked herself to a piece of heavy equipment and the executive director of Rainforest Action Network risked arrest.

Complaining that Enbridge Energy is drilling under more than 20 rivers and 800 wetlands in Anishinaabe treaty territory, the Giniw release claimed that a dozen people were arrested while Hubbard County law enforcement operated a riot line at the entrance to the Namewag Camp near Hinds Lake.

“This pipeline is a violent assault on Indigenous people and their treaty rights and a climate catastrophe that threatens all of us,” said Ginger Cassady, executive director of Rainforest Action Network (RAN). She urged Pres. Joe Biden and the U.S. banking system to withdraw financing for the Line 3 replacement project.

The June 1 release claimed that a water protector was pulled over by law enforcement while leaving the camp on suspicion of “violating the easement.”

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The Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office had previously posted notice that it would stop vehicle traffic into the camp via a non-vehicular trail across county-owned land. County officials stated last week that there is currently no road easement onto the property from that direction, though it is accessible by road from another direction and on foot.

In a follow-up release on June 2, the Giniw Collective claimed that Hubbard County “has refused to honor the traditional 10 percent cash bail option, instead demanding $5,000 conditional and $10,000 unconditional bail payments for release.”

“The world needs to pay attention to what’s happening here in Minnesota right now,” said Laurel Sutherlin, an RAN staffer, citing the link between fossil fuels and climate change. “This is urgent. That’s why we are putting our bodies on the line in support of local leaders to interrupt construction.”

Sutherlin characterized sheriff’s office actions as “strong-arm, violent tactics” and accused the banks that support the project of being “complicit in the physical abuse, the violation of rights and the climate disaster that will last generations.”

Law enforcement response

In a response to the Giniw release, Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes said he has been forced to use resources that shouldn’t have been necessary.

“The amount spent for the equipment used to extract water protectors from the apparatus they use to lock themselves to pipeline equipment,” he listed. “The overtime spent on your deputies’ time needed to make arrests and to process crime scenes. The extensive jail staff’s time needed to process the nearly 300 people that have been arrested.”

He concluded, “If these water protectors were truly peaceful and law-abiding as they claimed, we wouldn’t have had to do any of this.”

Aukes disagreed with what he described as Indigenous protestors’ claim that the 1855 U.S. treaty with the Chippewa nation means that laws don’t apply to them. “Nowhere in the 1855 treaty is language that permits the Chippewa Indians to commit felonies,” he said. “I do not take race into consideration when I enforce the laws in this county.”

Aukes said crimes committed by the water protectors include assault, destruction of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and driving vehicles on closed trails, adding that he would enforce these laws equally on non-Indigenous people.

Aukes also pointed out that the Texas-based Switchboard Trainers Network, which owns the Namewag camp previously owned by Winona LaDuke, calls itself a “network of direct action trainers” that teaches “non-cooperation with police” and is affiliated with an anarchist movement.

Aukes alleged that most of the people being arrested at the camp are from other states and that the owners of the property are not present. He also stressed that the owners could apply for an easement, as LaDuke did when she owned the property, but they have not done so.

Other allegations answered

The sheriff defended his decision to enforce the county ordinance closing the trail onto the property, saying, “I chose to treat people of all races the same because this isn’t about race. This is about public safety.”

Aukes also contended with camp leadership’s claim that the sheriff’s enforcement action has closed off access to the 80-acre property, noting that a township road, Big Buck Drive, borders it on the other side.

According to Aukes, water protectors have been arrested 20, 30 or even 180 at a time, but they typically spend one night in jail and are treated like anyone else who is arrested.

Responding to a camp leader who complained about being strip searched at the jail, Aukes said it is standard procedure for inmates to remove their clothing and put on jail attire.

“What is amazing to me,” said Aukes, “is the process after an arrest is made. … Time and time again, a protester makes a phone call and someone shows up with a duffel bag full of cash to bail them out. A bag full of $100 bills; in fact, $52,000 on one occasion. That is a lot of cash to be carrying around in a duffel bag.”

Aukes said someone recently came into the law enforcement center and paid cash to bail out 18 people, each with $5,000 to $10,000 in bail. “They are obviously well funded,” he said.

Aukes denied allegations that the sheriff’s office receives direct payments from Enbridge. “We are not their ‘private security,’” he said. “We respond to incidents reported at Enbridge sites, yes. Just like we would for anyone in Hubbard County.”

Aukes said the Public Utilities Commission required Enbridge to deposit monies in an escrow account to reimburse local institutions for pipeline-related expenses. “I will be requesting reimbursement for our expenses,” he said. “I’m not ashamed of that. Why should our taxpayers be saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses? … Enbridge should be responsible for those costs, and they are.”