Dear friends, family and colleagues,
From Friday July 30 – Saturday August 7, I will be participating in a human rights delegation to northern Minnesota to support Anishinaabe communities in protecting their lands and rivers from the Enbridge Company’s efforts to install the “Line 3” pipeline. I decided to join this delegation on a last-minute basis because I see this issue as vital to efforts to stop climate change. I also see it lying at the crux of other grave injustices we face, from police violence to racism to unchecked corporate power. Finally, these are the very issues that communities in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz have long faced — and that Voces y Manos has been working to address for the last decade.
If allowed to move forward, the Line3 pipeline will shuttle tar sands—the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet—from the Canadian oil fields in Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The net carbon output from this pipeline is estimated to be equivalent to that of 50 new coal-fired power plants. As we enter the fire season and face the dreaded new smoke-filled reality of life amid a rapidly changing climate, the prospect of releasing still more CO2 into the atmosphere is horrifying.
Bad as the global implications are, the local impacts of this project are equally horrific: Embridge is currently drilling under the headlands of the Mississippi River, pristine areas where Anishinaabe peoples have cultivated wild rice for thousands of years. In the process, the company will use five billion gallons of water, drained from rivers and lakes that are already at dangerously low levels. Draining such an immense amount of water in the middle of a drought is unconscionable, especially because it puts in jeopardy the growing of wild rice, a practice vital to Anishinaabe’s livelihood and cultural survival. The work on the pipeline is also accompanied by the threat of toxic spills: Embridge has already logged nine “frac-outs,” or underwater releases of toxic drilling fluid into pristine natural areas where wild rice is grown.
Despite these grave impacts — on Anishnaabe ways of life, on the local ecology, and on our global ecosystem — the Biden administration has somehow allowed this project to move forward. Fast-tracked for approval under Trump, the pipeline never went through a complete environmental impact assessment. This means that there is no assurance that drilling activities are meeting established safety standards, nor are spills being adequately documented. In fact, the nine toxic spills recorded to date have only become known to the public thanks to the careful efforts of Indigenous leaders and volunteers. In the process of collecting water samples, these individuals risk arrest for “trespassing” — a ludicrous charge given that Enbridge’s polluting activities take place on treaty-protected Anishinaabe land.
The parallels between the injustice unfolding in Minnesota and Voces y Manos’ work in Rabinal, Guatemala are inescapable. There, climate change imperils Mayan farmers’ ability to grow their traditional and sacred grains of corn and beans. And just as the assault on Anishinaabe people comes in the wake of hundreds of years of colonization, Mayan communities too have been rendered more vulnerable to climate change because of years of forced displacement carried out in service of Western-funded “development” projects. The most striking example is what took place in Rio Negro — a community in Rabinal where Voces y Manos is currently working to provide scholarships and support climate change adaptation — between the years 1979-1982. There, Maya-Achí families were mercilessly slaughtered when they resisted the construction of a hydroelectric dam that would have flooded their community. While the dispossession occurring today in Minnesota is happening more through persuasion and manipulation than overt violent repression, the end goal remains the same: displace the Native communities so that unscrupulous companies can reap enormous profits off their land.
It’s so painfully clear to us all — especially as we enter the fire season — that the age of massive climate disruptions has descended upon us and it’s only going to get worse. The Line 3 protesters have strengthened my conviction that addressing the climate crisis requires taking on the attendant crises of colonialism, racism, militarism, and unchecked corporate power. Enbridge’s activities in Minnesota represent the monstrous merger of all these injustices into one. Traveling to Minnesota to raise awareness about this issue felt absolutely necessary for me given the scale of the crisis, and consistent with Voces y Manos’ core commitments, albeit in a different context.
If you have the time and resources, I’d like to invite you to take a few minutes to read about the Line 3 pipeline and to support efforts to block it from going through: