Indigenous environmentalists opposing the expansion of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline filed for a restraining order against Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes and the Hubbard County Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier.
The civil complaint was filed Friday, July 16 with the Hubbard County Ninth Judicial District Court.
According to the Center for Protest Law and Litigation (CPLL), the emergency legal action seeks the immediate removal of the blockade set up June 28 by the sheriff’s office across the driveway to the Namewag Camp.
Tara Houska and Winona LaDuke are being represented by the CPLL, a project of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, and EarthRights International.
Houska is founder of the Giniw Collective, an Indigenous women-led environmental protection group. LaDuke is executive director of Honor the Earth.
Other plaintiffs listed in the complaint are AhnaCole Chapman and Switchboard Trainers Network.
Arrests at Shell River
Seven women, including LaDuke, were arrested Monday afternoon, July 19, by the Wadena County Sheriff’s Office during a protest near the Shell River.
They were booked into the Wadena County Jail for trespassing on critical public service facilities and refusing to leave upon demand.
According to Honor the Earth, “water protectors from across multiple communities in Minnesota sat together at the Shell River, near Park Rapids, in peaceful prayer to oppose the construction of Line 3, the largest tar sands pipeline ever constructed.”
They noted that Line 3 crosses underneath the Shell River in five places.
CPLL claims the sheriff “unlawfully blockaded access to a camp serving as a convergence space and home for Indigenous-led organizing, decolonization and treaty rights training, and religious activities by water protectors seeking to defend the untouched wetlands and the treaty territory of Anishinaabe people.”
In a news release, CPLL says police are blocking the only means of entry and exit to the camp “under the pretext that the small portion of the driveway extending from the Camp’s private property onto Hubbard County property is now suddenly a ‘trail’ and not designated for vehicular traffic – despite its 50 year use as a driveway.”
The legal action argues that the blockade is a violation of private property rights, including in particular an easement covering the driveway to the property.
“The Hubbard County Sheriff has attempted to illegally construct a de-facto open air prison to trap Indigenous environmental protectors and allies on their own property and to prevent others from joining in decolonization and treaty rights trainings and organizing against Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline,” says Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, legal counsel and director of the CPLL. “This is an overtly political, military-style blockade and checkpoint system being deployed with funding from the Enbridge corporation using the power of the state against its environmental opponents.”
Houska said that 12 people were arrested on June 28, “violently in some cases. Being thrown into the dirt of our driveway and cuffed is a gross abuse of power that sets a dangerous precedent for all private landowners. At one point, there were almost 50 squad cars on the dirt road in front of our home, sheriffs in the woods, sheriffs pushing forward in our driveway.”
“Indigenous communities, who have fought in the courts, through public protests and civil disobedience, to halt construction of Line 3 have explicitly stated that they do not want this pipeline anywhere near their protected lands,” said Marco Simons, General Counsel at EarthRights. “We must put a stop to this blatant display of environmental racism and listen to these communities. Moreover, we must also examine the unlawful and discriminatory policing tactics against these protestors, who have the constitutional right to protest the expansion of Line 3.”
CPLL’s news release also claims that Enbridge has paid more than $1 million to “reimburse” sheriff’s offices in the region, “effectively privatizing Minnesota’s public police forces in service to efforts to repress opposition to the pipeline.”
Aukes said he has not been served with a restraining order and questioned the legitimacy of such a lawsuit.
He further denies that his office had any type of unlawful blockade or made any violent arrests.
“We simply enforced the County Land Use Ordinance No. 36 and have cited people that have driven on trails that are not open for vehicular traffic,” he said in a written response. “We have also towed a convoy of vehicles that were completely blocking a Straight River township road. Water protectors intentionally blocked the road with absolutely no regard for the ambulances or fire trucks that may have to respond to the residents who live on that road.”
As a result, Aukes said arrests were made. “If you are going to disable and lock yourself to a vehicle in the middle of a public road in Hubbard County, you are going to jail.”
County officials previously stated that there is currently no road easement onto the Namewag Camp property, though it is accessible by road from another direction and on foot.
Aukes said an escrow account has been set up by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
“This is money that Enbridge was required to put into an account during the permitting process that was to be used to reimburse local public safety entities for expenses incurred due to the pipeline,” he explained. “Of course, I will be submitting for reimbursement. It would be fiscally irresponsible if I didn’t. Hubbard County taxpayers should not have to pay for the added costs we have incurred for this pipeline project. Enbridge has been willing to pay and they should.”