POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Hubbard County fought easement for 14 months

Here are two perspectives on the Ninth District Court’s Sept. 13 ruling about a disputed road easement in Hubbard County. Tara Houska and Winona LaDuke were the plaintiffs, while County Sheriff Cory Aukes and County Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier were the defendants.

Giniw Collective took this photo of Hubbard County Sheriff's Office deputies blocking access to the environmentalists' camp on June 28, 2021. After more than a year of litigation, the Ninth District Court ruled that the environmentalists' easement with Hubbard County was a road and all county efforts to obstruct access are barred.
Contributed/ Giniw Collective

Last year, rural northern Minnesota saw thousands of people from somewhere else in our towns, in our woods — pipeliners and protesters both.

I won’t rehash the pipeline issue, but suffice it to say as an Ojibwe tribal citizen and a born and raised northern Minnesotan, I’m tired of seeing our land and water exploited for outsiders, of seeing tribes disrespected and concerned for my child’s access to clean water, to the ricing, ice fishing and all that makes this place home.

When I moved to the land we named Namewag, the first structure we built was our sweat lodge. I used to work for Honor the Earth, and set out to build a Native cultural space with newly formed Giniw Collective. Winona LaDuke gifted the land to a non-profit.

For three years, we camped and taught people about wild rice, the forests, lakes, rivers. We shared about the treaties that formed Minnesota, about Enbridge, about the three Ojibwe nations who said no to Line 3.

We lived mostly undisturbed, save one incident when Sheriff Cory Aukes drove his vehicle up our driveway (I guess it wasn’t a “trail” yet) to the front door of our kitchen to “introduce himself.”


When Enbridge started building Line 3 in late fall of 2020, we exercised the same rights to protest that folks picketing greedy employers do. We did our best to protect the rice and rivers and wetlands from destruction.

Last summer, I was woken at 6 a.m. and told the sheriff was at the end of the driveway. Aukes had an ear-to-ear smile as he said we had until 10 a.m. to be off our property; after that any car attempting to enter would be seized and we would be arrested. He handed me a piece of paper and finished: “Go make your little calls, you’ve got till 10.”

A couple squad cars blocked our driveway soon after. I asked a deputy if he often blockaded people from their homes. He said it wasn’t a driveway, it was a “trail.”

I looked at the 100-year-old, hardpack-dirt driveway, looked at him and asked how he thought our buildings got there. Were the concrete and lumber carried in by hand? I asked if it had been a trail for the three years we had been hauling in water, food and hosting sweats, trainings, hide camps.

Around 11 a.m., folks tried dropping off water. Like many off-grid properties, we haul our water in. Police began threatening arrest. By nightfall, 12 people were arrested on Big Buck Drive and over 30 squad cars from half a dozen counties lined the dirt road. A riot line of police pushed up our driveway. I hugged my pets in the tiny shed I called home, told them I was sorry, l would be back, and filled their food and water bowls. Then I prepared to crawl into our sweat lodge, figuring they could drag me out of the heart of my home to arrest me. It was horrible, to put it lightly.

After that day, a posted squad car across from our property stopped and criminally cited dozens of folks coming and going from Namewag.

We sought and won a restraining order against the sheriff, so we could drive on our driveway without being charged with gross misdemeanors.

Low-flying helicopters carrying police investigators buzzed our property a few times a week. Hubbard County fought us for over 14 months. As recently as September, the court issued sanctions on Hubbard County for refusing to provide information required by law. Finally, on Sept. 13, the judge ruled our driveway was a driveway and we have the right to access our home.


I’ve never heard of any easement dispute reaching these levels. It’s got to be the most policed easement dispute in Minnesota history.

I’ve never heard of a sheriff showing up at a private citizen's home to tell them their driveway isn’t a driveway anymore and they’ve got a couple hours to get out.

No matter which side of the pipeline issue you’re on, I hope folks see the risks of a county sheriff blockading Minnesotans from accessing their homes simply because he doesn’t agree with them. That kind of behavior suggests our homes are up for grabs, depending on a sheriff’s mood.

It looks like Enbridge has breached yet another water aquifer that’s gone unreported; I hope our waters and every being who depends on it doesn’t suffer too greatly. Good luck to everyone on the opener.

Giniw Collective is an Indigenous women-led environmental protection group.

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