Minnesota court ruling permanently lifts police blockade of Indigenous-led protest space.
September 13, 2022, Park Rapids, Minn—In a major victory for frontline water protectors led by Tara Houska and Winona LaDuke, a Minnesota state court ruled that police violated the legal rights of water protectors at Line 3 when they blocked access to an Indigenous-led convergence space known as Namewag Camp. Although the camp was on private property, the Hubbard County Sheriff had prohibited access through the driveway to the property and issued numerous criminal citations to water protectors using the driveway.
EarthRights International General Counsel Marco Simons, a legal representative of the plaintiffs said:
“We are very pleased with today’s ruling by the Minnesota court. In granting the Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, the court determined that the water protectors have — and have always had – the right to use a driveway to enter their private property, and thus there was no legal basis justifying the police blockade. With this ruling, the temporary injunction the court granted in July of 2021 is now permanent, and police and county officials can no longer impede access to the property.
“The court’s ruling is a major rebuke to police efforts to unlawfully target water protectors and to interfere with their activities protesting the Line 3 pipeline. Blocking access to the Namewag camp exemplifies a pattern of unlawful and discriminatory police conduct incentivized by an Enbridge-funded account from which the police can seek reimbursement for Line 3-related activities.
“Police forces should protect the public interest, not private companies. Cases like this highlight the dangers of allowing the police to act as a private security arm for pipeline companies. Even before this decision, all of the criminal citations against individuals who used the driveway had been dropped. In a recent communication to the court, the County Attorney stated that he did not intend to re-file any of those charges. This decision essentially guarantees that no additional charges will be brought and is an important step in efforts to ensure that Line 3 water protectors can conduct their work without fear of being criminalized.”
Plaintiff Tara Houska, Founder of the Giniw Collective added:
“15 months ago, I was woken up at 6 a.m. and walked down my driveway to a grinning sheriff holding a notice to vacate my years-long home. That day turned into 50 squad cars on a dirt road and a riot line blocking my driveway. Twelve people, guests from all over who came to protect the rivers and wild rice from Line 3 tar sands, were arrested and thrown into the dirt.
“Today’s ruling is a testament to the lengths Hubbard County was willing to go to criminalize and harass Native women, land defenders, and anyone associated with us — spending unknown amounts of taxpayer dollars and countless hours trying to convince the court that the driveway to Namewag camp wasn’t a driveway. It’s also a testament to a steadfast commitment to resisting oppression. This is a piece in the long game, and we aren’t afraid. We haven’t forgotten the harms to us and the harms to the earth. Onward.”
Plaintiff Winona LaDuke, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Honor the Earth said:
“We are grateful to Judge Austad for recognizing how Hubbard County exceeded its authority and violated our rights. Today’s ruling shows that Hubbard County cannot repress Native people for the benefit of Enbridge by circumventing the law. This is also an important victory for all people of the North reinforcing that a repressive police force should not be able to stop you from accessing your land upon which you hunt or live.”
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, constitutional rights lawyer and Director of the Center for Protest Law & Litigation concluded:
“Today, David beat Goliath in a legal victory for people protecting the climate from rapacious corporate destruction. The outrageous blockade and repression of an Indigenous-led water protector camp was fueled by massive sums of money flowing from the Enbridge corporation to the Sheriff’s department as it acted against water protectors challenging Enbridge’s destruction of Native lands.
“Today’s decision finds that the paramilitarized blockade was illegal and orders the Sheriff and Hubbard County to desist from any ongoing effort to obstruct access. This has been a hard-fought case as Hubbard County and its Sheriff have perpetuated the history of efforts to deprive Native people of access to land. Today’s victory sends a message to the next police force that might consider similar tactics, that activists will not back down and will fight to assert their rights.”
The Line 3 pipeline extends 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. Due to the pipeline’s impact on culturally important wild rice beds, the risk of catastrophic spills, and its significant contributions to climate change – representing the equivalent of 50 coal plants worth of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere — thousands of water protectors led by Indigenous organizers including Tara Houska and Winona LaDuke, joined in protest against the project in 2021.
Enbridge, the Canadian company behind the pipeline, is already responsible for the largest inland oil spill in the United States and also holds a 27.6 percent stake in the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. In order to encourage a strong police response to pipeline opponents, Enbridge created an escrow trust fund, giving law enforcement a blank check to bill Enbridge for any and all operations related to the pipeline. This resulted in an extraordinary abuse of police powers against water protectors throughout 2021.
One particularly notable example was the blockade of Namewag Camp. On June 28, 2021, with no prior notice, Hubbard County officials led by Sheriff Cory Aukes announced that they were prohibiting use of the driveway to the camp — even though the camp was on private property dedicated as an Indigenous-led organizing space and the County had previously granted an easement for driveway access. The County issued criminal citations against more than 20 people for using the driveway. The driveway prohibition only ended when, on July 23, 2021, a Minnesota judge issued an order for the police to allow access to the property.
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.
In addition to EarthRights, the Plaintiffs are represented by lawyers from the Center for Protest Law and Litigation and local counsel Jason Steck.
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