Columbus's Real Legacy Is Playing Out in Minnesota

·5-min read
Photo credit: bdsklo - Getty Images
Photo credit: bdsklo - Getty Images

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day! Here’s what I don’t get: even if you're a white supremacist, Columbus Day is a joke. Shouldn't y'all be celebrating Leif Erikson Day? He was a lot whiter than Columbus, who was a Genoan. Plus Leif worshipped Odin and the rest of the Norse deities, who are supposed to be big wheels to you people. And the date is October 9, so you could celebrate over relatively the same long weekend. And, in 1925, Calvin Coolidge, certainly one of our whitest presidents, announced that Leif had been the first European to get here. I mean, seriously, get with the program.

(As much as it kills me to admit it, I can’t suggest St. Brendan’s Day—May 16—because his Navigatio reads more like Gullivers Travels spiced up by Ray Harryhausen. Brendan meets Judas, who sits on a wet rock on feast days as a break from being in hell. There is an island of sheep and an island of blacksmiths. Also, sea monsters, a gryphon, and demons who drag one of the crew into a volcano and down to hell. They also run into a guy named Paul the Hermit, who wears only hair and is fed by otters. I don’t know about voyages but I think Brendan certainly may have gone on a trip or two.)

While you all ponder that, there is a real-life bit of Columbus’s true legacy being acted out in northern Minnesota. The Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, the only pipeline still carrying Canadian tar-sands oil, has become operational. Local environmentalists and Indigenous people have been actively resisting the pipeline for a long time, and a lot of them have been hauled off to the hoosegow for having done so. Which prompted this amazing recent story in the Guardian. If you wondered what it would have been like to live in the Gilded Age, when law enforcement was a wholly-owned subsidiary of corporate power, well, you could ask the people in Minnesota about that.

Enbridge is replacing the Line 3 pipeline through Minnesota to carry oil from Alberta to the tip of Lake Superior in Wisconsin. The new pipeline carries a heavy oil called bitumen, doubles the capacity of the original to 760,000 barrels a day and carves a new route through pristine wetlands. A report by the climate action group MN350 says the expanded pipeline will emit the equivalent greenhouse gases of 50 coal power plants.

Police have arrested more than 900 demonstrators opposing Line 3 and its impact on climate and Indigenous rights, according to the Pipeline Legal Action Network. It’s common for protesters opposing pipeline construction to face private security hired by companies, as they did during demonstrations against the Dakota Access pipeline. But in Minnesota, a financial agreement with a foreign company has given public police forces an incentive to arrest demonstrators.

And there is absolutely nothing that can go wrong with that, as anyone can see.

Brandon Thyen, Chisago county sheriff, requested Enbridge reimbursement when his deputies were assigned “to protect the construction workers and equipment from activists and protesters”. On 29 July, Houska said Line 3 opponents, who identify as water protectors, attempted to stop the drilling, under skies that were thick with wildfire smoke from the west. “We were met with rubber bullets and Mace by a big line of police officers from multiple counties shooting at us at point blank range,” she said.

The Enbridge No. 3 is a terrible idea on just about every level. First of all, any planet serious about the climate crisis would keep the tar sands in the ground. Second, this pipeline not only endangers the pristine Boundary Waters area, but also it ends up at Lake Superior, where can be found 10 percent of the world’s freshwater supply. And it’s not like the project hasn’t already fouled its way across the landscape. From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Forced by state regulators, Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge has launched a major cleanup effort in Clearwater County to repair the aquifer crews punctured during construction in January. Artesian groundwater has been welling up for more than eight months near this rural community, wasting at least 24 million gallons and threatening to dry out two rare and protected wetland areas nearby called fens. "I just don't want people losing precious water," said Jenna Olson, who works at the gas station in Clearbrook, population 464. "That's something serious.”

The breach is a significant blunder on one of the largest construction projects in the state's recent history, but it's been largely out of public view given the location and the fact the company failed to tell regulators about it for several months. The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) revealed the problem only last month when it ordered Enbridge to pay $3.3 million for the damage and gave it 30 days to stop the uncontrolled flow of water.

Why any state would continue to do business with these people is beyond me. From WCCO:

A challenge is still pending in federal court to a permit granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but that case didn’t block construction. Opponents can still ask the state Supreme Court to review a clean water certification granted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The pipeline is operating now without a clear permit. Also, it is being sued by wild rice.

Also, a novel “rights of nature” lawsuit is pending in the White Earth tribal court. It names Manoomin — the Ojibwe word for wild rice — as one of the plaintiffs. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has asked a federal appeals court to block that case. “We are confident that the (tribal) court will hold that the rights of wild rice should supersede the rights of the Canadian multinational … And we will ask the federal government to uphold the decisions that are made in our court,” [Winona] LaDuke told reporters.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day than having a native crop sue a greedy multinational invader.

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