By Robert Desjarlait, March 10, 2013. Source: Intercontinental Cry

To the southwest of the Red Lake Anishinaabe Nation, lie desolate, wooded lands that were opened for settlement and home-steading under the Agreement of 1889. In 1945, Oscar Chapman, Assistant Secretary of Interior, signed an Order of Restoration that restored unsold ceded lands of the Agreements of 1889 and 1904 to the Red Lake Band. Although most of the southwestern ceded land was sold during 1889 land rush, several areas remained unsold and were returned to Red Lake, including eight acres located outside the town of Leonard, MN.

In 1949, the Lakehead Pipe Line Company built an underground pipeline on the ceded land outside Leonard. Lakehead was the U.S. base of operations for Canada’s Interprovincial Pipe Line Co. (IPL – owned by Exxon predecessor Standard Oil of New Jersey). Other Lakehead pipelines followed in 1958, 1962, and 1972. In 1998, IPL changed its name to Enbridge Inc., a name that combined “energy” and “bridge.”

On February 28, 2013, Marty Cobenais, a Red Lake member and a Tar Sands organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, entered the Red Lake ceded land site. Accompanied by several Red Lake Band members, Native, and non-Native supporters, Cobenais occupied the Enbridge pipelines that were considered to be illegally on Red Lake ceded land.

Cobenais’ action wasn’t spontaneous. In the months preceding the occupation, he set up informational meetings in Red Lake, Bemidji, Fond du Lac, and Minneapolis to discuss environmental issues associated with Tar Sands and, in particular, Enbridge pipelines on Minnesota Anishinaabeg homelands.

In regard to Red Lake, Cobenais’ Enbridge Expansion Fact Sheet pointed out that “the Red Lake Nation has not signed any easements or agreements with Enbridge, the company trespassed and illegally constructed and maintained pipelines on Red Lake ceded lands.

“In 2011, this issue was brought to light and the Red Lake Tribal Council…has considered several options, including signing an easement with a mutually agreed upon payment, charging Enbridge with trespassing, injunctions stopping the flow of the oil in the pipelines and, removal of the pipelines from the ceded land altogether.

“Red Lake, Leech Lake, and Fond du Lac land and waters are or will be impacted by the pipelines and therefore the tribes should have significant input regarding the proposed expansions [of barrels per day]. They have the power to pass resolutions opposing the increase and submit these resolutions to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Department of State, and the Department of Interior.”