Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

native activst at line 3 protest

A Native American environmental activist dances with an eagle feather in front of the construction site for the Line 3 oil pipeline near Palisade, Minnesota on January 9, 2021. (Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images)

From Columbus to Enbridge: Colonial Exploitation Continues

It's time to end conquest and begin survival.

It's somehow fitting irony as Indigenous Day approaches on Oct. 11 — once known by another name — that a new Columbus is about to pump oil through Line 3, the last tar sands pipeline. That is the colonial-like corporation Enbridge.

Maybe President Joe Biden will think about this one and stop the dirty oil from burning our rivers and air. The Indian wars could be over. After all, no one needs this pipeline, plus it's the dirtiest and most expensive oil in the world to extract and produce.

In one narrative, the Canadian corporation won. Columbus conquered anew, proof that might and money remain the rulers.

"A new Columbus is about to pump oil through Line 3, the last tar sands pipeline. That is the colonial-like corporation Enbridge."

Then, there's another. That's the Ballad of the Water Protectors — a movement born in the battles in northern Minnesota and North Dakota, a movement that will grow and transform the economy of the future.

How do we know this?Well, no one wants to finance more tar sands. Other telling signs, and some new red flags, include:

The Canadian oil industry estimated that a lack of pipeline capacity reduced the industry's income by tens of billions of dollars before the pandemic started. The tar sands industry couldn't afford to approve and build new extraction facilities during the curtailment, and now, in part due to the pandemic, it still can't.

Uncertainty about Line 3 caused by Indigenous people and water protectors encouraged massive divestment from the tar sands by non-Canadian investors. Everybody from Shell Oil to the Koch brothers bailed out. Last month, my alma mater, Harvard University, began divestment of fossil fuels. Harvard wouldn't even divest from South Africa, those stubborn old dudes. This is, well, monumental.

A recent joint report by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International, found that Indigenous resistance alone has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least 25% of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions.

As a result of low oil prices, reduced income and divestment, tar sands industry capital expenditures crashed. Almost all its capital spending over the past five years was used for maintenance of existing extraction facilities, not development of new facilities.

Put another way, the pipeline opposition campaign stopped the tar sands industry dead in its tracks.

We all just recently learned two more blatant things about Enbridge that should give everyone pause — especially our government leaders like Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, whose cowardly silence makes them complicit in this egregious crime.

First, after piercing an aquifer in January — an aquifer that is still bleeding 100,000 gallons of water a day — Enbridge covered it up for as long as it could until it was caught and fined $3.3 million by the Department of Natural Resources. This is the kind of people we are dealing with.

We also learned the pipeline isn't even adequately insured. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission required Enbridge to obtain $200 million of "environmental impairment liability" insurance, in addition to general corporate liability coverage of $900 million, and to include the state of Minnesota and several American Indian tribes as additional insureds on its policies. But Enbridge recently submitted a report to the Public Utilities Commission saying it will likely not be able to obtain this insurance "in the near future."

That's baffling and problematic at best. I'm wondering what Harvard Business School is thinking about that one. No insurance is not only dangerous but illustrates again that the tar sands party is over. The most expensive tar sands pipeline will be the last one to the U.S.

In 2018, due to a lack of pipeline capacity, the government of Alberta ordered tar sands and other crude oil extraction facilities to curtail production, initially by 325,000 barrels per day. This order meant that each month about 10 million barrels of oil (and the carbon within it) stayed in the ground. Although Alberta gradually ramped down the curtailment, it lasted almost two years. Thank a water protector for that.

We also delayed the Line 3 project by four years (Enbridge's initial in-service date was 2017), such that any new tar sands development efforts are now facing the near-term prospect of reduced oil demand resulting from the escalating adoption of electric vehicles and climate change policy developments, such as the Canadian carbon tax.

Delaying Line 3 by four years means that the tar sands industry now faces a global crude oil market environment that is much less favorable than in 2017.

Meanwhile, a Code Red has just been issued for the planet in the latest U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. With this warning, Minnesota's approval of the line, from the Public Utilities Committee to the courts, makes us look like archaic climate crisis co-conspirators.

We also look increasingly like a police state, especially in northern Minnesota. The repressive police brutalization of Line 3 opponents using rubber bullets, chemical sprays and "pain compliance" have come to the attention of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) for "Violations of Anishinaabe Human Rights from Enbridge's Line 3."

This new investigation is likely to expose again into the future what a truly rotten idea the escrow account established by Enbridge and the PUC to militarize the north in the name of defending Line 3 really was. Did we learn something from our whippings?

Approaching this day for uplifting Indigenous peoples, here's a suggestion. It's time to end conquest and begin survival. Code Red for the environment means that we need to move away from fossil fuels and to organic agriculture, and to local and efficient energy. Fortunately, tribal nations are leading the way in the north. It's time to quit acting like Columbus.


© 2021 Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Winona LaDuke

Winona LaDuke

Winona Laduke, Executive Director of Honor the Earth, is an author, activist, former US vice presidential candidate, and mother. She is an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg who lives and works on the White Earth Reservations. She has led a series of horseback rides along tar sands pipeline routes that pass through her people’s treaty areas in North Dakota.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

New Filing Reveals Sinema Pads Campaign Coffers With More Pharma and Finance Funds

"This is what someone who's bought and paid for looks like."

Brett Wilkins ·


'We're Not Stopping': Weeklong D.C. Climate Protests End With 650+ Arrests, Vows to Fight On

"There is no other planet to escape to. Water is life... They need to listen to the youth. They need to hear us speak our cries."

Brett Wilkins ·



Ousted by AOC, Joe Crowley Now Lobbying Against Tax Hikes on Corporate Giants

The former chair of the House Democratic Caucus once called the GOP's 2017 tax law a "scam," but now he's collaborating with Wall Street to undermine attempts at progressive reform.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Corporate Fraud at Its Worst': J&J Hides Behind Bankruptcy Amid Baby Powder Lawsuits

"Here we go again," said Elizabeth Warren. "Another giant corporation is abusing our bankruptcy system."

Julia Conley ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo