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Pipeline poses direct threats to the human rights of frontline Indigenous communities and the environment. 

April 5, 2023, Geneva, Switzerland— Representatives of fifty-one Tribal and First Nations located in what is now the United States and Canada submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council calling on the Government of Canada to stop violating the human rights of Indigenous peoples through its support for Enbridge’s Line 5 crude oil pipeline. First constructed in 1953, Line 5 runs between Wisconsin and Ontario, traversing major waterways posing direct threats to Tribal Nations, communities, and ecosystems along its path. 

The groups submitted the report for consideration under Canada’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR). As a U.N. member state, Canada’s human rights record is periodically scrutinized by U.N. member States through the UPR at the Human Rights Council. Canada will be reviewed during the 44th session of the UPR Working Group, which will take place from November 6 through 17 this year, and it will be Canada’s fourth review.

Line 5, which trespasses on traditional Anishinaabe territories in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario, faces lawsuits from Tribal Nations and the State of Michigan. Rather than respect and defend the rights of Indigenous peoples, Canada’s government has shielded Enbridge from being shut down, invoking the 1977 Transit Pipeline Treaty with the U.S. and making legal submissions in U.S. courts to keep the pipeline operating. 

The communities and their council offered the following statements: 

“The rights of Indigenous people, of my people, are rights that should be respected by all sovereigns both domestic and abroad,” said President Whitney Gravelle of the Bay Mills Indian Community. “Canada’s support of Line 5 is a disaster in the making for the entire Great Lakes region because an oil spill will poison our fish, harm our sacred sites, contaminate our drinking water – and ultimately destroy our Indigenous way of life.”

“The Straits of Mackinac are central to the Anishinaabe creation story, which makes this location sacred from both a cultural and historical perspective in the formation of the Anishinaabe people,” said Chairperson Austin Lowes of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. “Protecting the Straits is also a matter of the utmost environmental and economic importance – both to our people and the state of Michigan.”

“The Bad River Band is saddened by the fact that Canada’s actions have required us to raise our complaints with the United Nations, but Canada has left the Tribes with no choice,” said Chairman Michael Wiggins Jr. of the Bad River Band. “Canada has deliberately interfered in our efforts to protect our homeland. It has sought to block us from evicting a company that has trespassed on our lands for a decade and whose actions pose an existential threat to the Bad River watershed and our very way of life. It has likewise interfered with the efforts of Bay Mills and our other sister tribes in Michigan to protect their sacred waterways and fisheries. Canada’s prioritization of the profits of its oil and gas companies over the rights of indigenous peoples on both sides of the border demands the attention of all people of good faith.”

“The Anishinabek Nation supports the shutdown of Line 5,” said Reg Niganobe, Grand Council Chief of the Anishinabek Nation. “Our communities have collectively stood in solidarity with our relations along the pipeline to protect the land and water against the potential for catastrophic environmental damage. For centuries, peoples of our nations have been caring for the Great Lakes; we are reliant on the waters for our way of life. We will be relieved when this line is effectively decommissioned, and we express gratitude to our relatives who have been leading this critical fight for years.” 

“Canada’s international human rights obligations are clear,” said EarthRights General Counsel Marco Simons. “The State must respect and actively protect Indigenous peoples’ lands and way of life, including by regulating the activities of the corporations under its jurisdiction that pose threats to Indigenous rights. Not only has Canada failed in this obligation by refusing to decommission the degrading Line 5 or even consult with the affected Indigenous populations, but it is actively intervening legally and diplomatically to ensure that Enbridge can operate Line 5 for decades to come. Indigenous communities deserve better.” 

“Line 5 poses an unacceptable risk to the treaty-protected natural and cultural resources of Indigenous Peoples around the Great Lakes,” added Elizabeth Goldstein, Emma Schwartz, and Jack Schnettler, student attorneys in the Georgetown Environmental Law and Justice Clinic. “By supporting fossil fuel projects like Line 5, Canada is exacerbating climate change and perpetuating environmental injustices. The Clinic was thrilled to work with the Bay Mills Indian Community to expose these injustices and support frontline communities that experience devastating impacts of climate change while being excluded from decision-making affecting their lands and very way of life.”

“Canada’s efforts to extend the operation of the Line 5 oil pipeline–over the objections and against the rights of Tribal and First Nations–flies in the face of its legal obligations,” said Tamara Morgenthau, Senior Attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law. “Rather than comply with its duty to respect and protect human rights and the environment from the destructive impacts of fossil fuels and the climate change they cause, Canada has instead sought to protect Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline. Doing so only locks in further dependence on fossil fuels and further harm to people and the planet. Canada should reverse course.”

“The ongoing operation of Enbridge’s leaky Line 5 in the Great Lakes basin is an ecological disaster in the making,” said Michelle Woodhouse, Water Program Manager for Environmental Defence Canada. “It is also a clear violation of the inherent and treaty rights of the Anishinaabeg Nations of the Great Lakes. The Government of Canada must uphold Indigenous rights as required by law under An Act Respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This includes withdrawing its use of the 1977 pipeline treaty, working with U.S. governments and the Anishinaabeg Nations of the Great Lakes to shut down Line 5, and implementing existing readily available alternatives to meet our energy needs.” 

The communities urge the Government of Canada to: 

  • Withdraw its invocation of the Pipeline Treaty and its positions in U.S. litigation opposing decommissioning Line 5.
  • Ensure that affected Indigenous Nations, who are sovereigns and human rights holders, are invited to participate in discussions regarding Line 5’s future, including any negotiations under the Pipeline Treaty, so long as they continue.
  • Interpret all international treaties, including the Pipeline Treaty, consistently with Canada’s human rights obligations.
  • Ensure affected Indigenous Peoples’ Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) before providing support for extractive sector projects and withdraw support from projects that do not have affected Indigenous Peoples’ FPIC.
  • Ensure that corporations under Canadian jurisdiction do not cause or contribute to foreseeable threats to human rights. 

The report was submitted by the Anishinabek Nation, Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Bay Mills Indian Community, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians, Hannahville Indian Community, Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians of Michigan, Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, together with the Center for International Environmental Law, EarthRights International, Environmental Defence Canada, and the Georgetown University Law Center Environmental Law and Justice Clinic. 

Kate Fried, Communications Director, EarthRights International
(202) 257.0057