July 23, 2021, Park Rapids, Minn–This morning, a Minnesota court granted a temporary restraining order requested by Indigenous water protectors, including Tara Houska and Winona LaDuke, against Hubbard County, Sheriff Cory Aukes, and the local land commissioner in northern Minnesota. The ruling comes less than a week after the plaintiffs, activists opposing the expansion of the Line 3 pipeline, filed for a temporary restraining order against the sheriff for unlawfully blockading access to a camp, on private property, serving as a convergence space and home for Indigenous-led organizing, decolonization and treaty rights trainings, and religious activities by water protectors seeking to defend the untouched wetlands and the treaty territory of Anishinaabe peoples. EarthRights International, the Center for Protest Law and Litigation, a project of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, and local counsel Jason Steck represent the plaintiffs.
“Although much of the state appears to have forgotten who their duty is owed to, I’m glad to see some refusing to bend to Enbridge and instead choosing upholding Constitutional rights and basic tenets of law,” said plaintiff Tara Houska. “Just because the Hubbard County Sheriff and Hubbard County Attorney are opposed to Native people protecting our homelands should not mean they can engage in violent, unlawful repression without consequence. Giniw Collective is glad to have rightful access to our home back.”
“We want to thank the court for informing Hubbard County about the rights of property owners, and hope that the Sheriff’s continued preoccupation with the repression of water protectors can be focused on real criminals,” said plaintiff Winona LaDuke.
“This ruling is a decisive victory for our clients, Indigenous water protectors exercising their constitutional rights to oppose the expansion of the Line 3 pipeline,” said Marco Simons, General Counsel of EarthRights. “The sheriff admitted that this unprecedented interference with access to private property was intended to target water protectors protesting the Line 3 pipeline, and it follows a global pattern of harassing environmental protectors. This order is an important step toward listening to these communities and respecting their property rights.”
“The Hubbard County Sheriff has been served notice that his illegal campaign of militarized harassment and obstruction must end now. Any ongoing effort by him to blockade the camp, turn it into an open-air prison, or criminalize people for coming to and from the property will subject him to a contempt action,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, legal counsel to water protectors and director of the Center for Protest Law and Litigation at the PCJF. “This has been an outrageous abuse of law enforcement authority serving the interests of the Enbridge corporation against its environmental opponents.”
Yesterday’s ruling requires the police to remove their blockade and to stop issuing criminal citations against the water protectors’ use of the driveway. The Court issued its decision based on evidence presented by plaintiffs that:
- Winona LaDuke obtained an easement over the County parcel for the use of the driveway, and there was no basis for concluding that that easement was extinguished. Further, the plaintiffs have presented other compelling arguments for why an easement exists that allows the use of the driveway and are highly likely to succeed on their claims.
- The blockade represents a substantial violation of plaintiffs’ right to use and enjoy the property, whereas defendants would not be harmed by the temporary restraining order.
- Public policy also supports the temporary restraining order in light of the fundamental rights that are affected by the police’s action, including the rights to peaceably assemble, to be free from unreasonable seizures, and to not have property rights taken away without just compensation.
- There is no showing that the law is being broken on the disputed easement that would justify criminalizing the use of the driveway.
The proposed new pipeline would extend approximately 338 miles through northern Minnesota, carrying a projected 760,000 barrels of tar sands oil each day across 227 lakes and rivers (including the Mississippi River), over 800 protected wetlands, and ceded lands where the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and White Earth Band of Ojibwe exercise hunting, fishing, and gathering rights pursuant to treaties recognized by federal law. The pipeline would destroy culturally important wild rice beds, risk catastrophic spills, and significantly contribute to climate change, representing the equivalent of 50 coal plants worth of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.
Enbridge, which is already responsible for the largest inland oil spill in the United States, also holds a 27.6 percent equity stake in the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. Tar sands are a particularly destructive form of fossil fuels. Their extraction and production are significantly more expensive and energy-intensive than that of oil. On a lifetime basis, a gallon of gasoline made from tar sands produces about 15 percent more carbon dioxide emissions than one made from conventional oil, according to The Union of Concerned Scientists.
Tara Houska is an environmental and Indigenous rights attorney and advocate, land defender, founder of the Giniw Collective, and a leader of the efforts to stop Line 3. She is a citizen of Couchiching First Nation.
Winona LaDuke is a renowned activist working on issues relating to sustainable development, renewable energy, and food systems. She is the co-founder and executive director of Honor the Earth. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota and is a member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg.
EarthRights is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization that combines the power of law and the power of people in defense of human rights and the environment, which we define as “earth rights.” We specialize in fact-finding, legal actions against perpetrators of earth rights abuses, training grassroots and community leaders, and advocacy campaigns. Through these strategies, EarthRights seeks to end earth rights abuses, to provide real solutions for real people, and to promote and protect human rights and the environment in the communities where we work.
The Center for Protest Law and Litigation is a project of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF). The PCJF is a free speech, constitutional rights and civil rights organization that has represented thousands of individuals and organizations in defense of First Amendment rights for over 25 years in Washington, D.C., and around the country. For more information, visit www.ProtestLaw.org