Migizi Will Fly
The Indigenous-led movement to stop Line 3
By car, it’s thirty minutes west of
Lake Superior Gichigami, in the city limits of Cloquet, on Fond du Lac land, so-called Minnesota. Turn off the bigger, faster road, there’s woods, a clearing — stripped land groomed for pipeline laying — then the trees start up again, a bunch of cars parked in a ditch, a fence, a gate, a sign: PROTECT THE SACRED. This is Camp Migizi.
TAYSHA MARTINEAU, 28, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa; anarcho-communist, Two Spirit, she/they, parent of four. Black septum ring, black LAND BACK long sleeve:
The camp originated out of a place of pain.1
Taysha established Camp Migizi in February 2021 as a base camp for frontline water protectors fighting the construction of tar sands pipeline Enbridge Line 3.
TAYSHA: An area I used to pray at that we called Grandma’s Table was desecrated by the Enbridge Corporation when they started digging here last December. Enbridge knew what that spot was and how much it meant to us. When they dug up the pipeline, they dumped it right where ceremony was performed. I knew I was going to become an obstacle for this pipeline, but I knew I couldn’t do it alone.
Taysha crowdfunded money to purchase the land from the Fond du Lac Band and put out the call for warriors.
TAYSHA: Migizi means “eagle” in Anishinaabe. I am Eagle Clan. At the start of the fight, I was gifted an eagle staff by the Midewiwin Lodge, which is our traditional religion. When I found this spot, there were two eagles flying above the property. They were doing some sort of dance. That’s when I knew this was Camp Migizi.
When Enbridge proposed the new Line 3 in 2014, it was framed as a replacement for the old Line 3, a 1,097-mile-long pipeline that Enbridge had installed in the 1960s. In practice, most of the now-decommissioned old Line 3 has been left to corrode in the ground; the new Line 3 is an expansion. It is 340 miles longer, doubles the old one’s capacity, and travels an updated route. Starting from Harsidy, Alberta, Canada, it passes down through Anishinaabe land.
As soon as Enbridge announced the new Line 3, tribal nations and local Indigenous and environmental groups began their campaign to resist it. They started with town halls, lawsuits, petitions, and appeals, all of which proved ineffective. Construction began in Canada in 2017. After the state of Minnesota finally approved the last of Line 3’s construction permits in November 2020, a number of the Indigenous organizers set up camps to serve as bases for the ensuing frontline protests. Planning and preparation for this final push of direct action resistance had already been in progress long before this moment. As Enbridge dug at multiple sites simultaneously along the pipeline’s path, Indigenous water protectors began leading direct actions to stop it, blockading roads, trespassing on worksites, and locking down to construction and drilling equipment.
It feels so sad, even when I want it to just feel utopian, optimistic, and hopeful. Which it also is.
It feels so sad, even when I want it to just feel utopian, optimistic, and hopeful. Which it also is.Tweet
I came to Migizi for the first week of September 2021. I’d spent the summer hypnotized, scrolling through images of the increasingly violent clashes between the protesters and the police on Instagram. When I arrived, Line 3 was just a few weeks away from completion. There was a sense of no, not quite defeat in the air, some hope was left that Line 3 could, somehow, be stopped still, or — barring that — shut down after the fact. The brokenhearted passion that had brought hundreds of people through these ten acres of Fond du Lac land was going through some kind of transformation.
SEA, compulsively talkative, eager, i.e., eager to clean the toilets and teach me how; instantly volunteering to show me around, practically chirping:
If a tent is empty then you can probably sleep in it. If it is somebody’s tent, they will just tell you, a lot of people are still recovering from the Capitol.2 People just spent all weekend in jail and some of them stayed in the Twin Cities to chill before Build Week. Some people aren’t coming back.
Build Week was Camp Migizi’s big push for winterization ahead of its second winter and toward becoming a long-term, sustainable space for Indigenous culture and activism.
SEA: (Vague sweep of the arm) This is the property line. Technically, we are on Enbridge land now, that’s where they’re building Line 4, which we’re not fighting against because it’s a natural gas pipeline and we don’t want to confuse our message and say that we are against all pipelines, although . . .
(Aren’t you? Aren’t we?)
SEA: Anyway, we said we weren’t supposed to camp on Enbridge land, but I guess that at a certain point, we decided that we stopped caring, so technically, this is Enbridge property, but as long as you’re to the right of the path, you’re definitely on our land, and there’s plenty of room.
BELA, that’s me:
What would you like to see written about Camp Migizi?
Taysha thought for a moment, then spoke very deliberately.
TAYSHA: The media picks a leader and they make them the name and the face. And they focus only on that person. I think that’s where [a movement] loses its power. I can’t speak for all the amazing people who are a part of this fight. I want the world to hear the stories of people who’ve traveled hundreds of miles because something inside them told them that this is important. And I myself want to hear those stories. Regardless of how it reflects upon the movement as a whole, the power lies with us as individuals fighting for a greater cause.
The heart of the camp was an open-air kitchen — a small propane range, two folding tables, and a plugged-up triple sink filled with water boiled on the sacred fire. The food was all donated and prepared and shared off greasy plastic plates that came from the field kitchen tent. Twenty or so mostly quite young and scraggly people were milling about, sitting on stumps and mismatched chairs strewn around the fire, which was always burning. I asked the people I found myself sitting with what brought them to Camp Migizi.
DEER, grew up on a ranch, worked in Hollywood:
I got here three weeks ago. So much has happened. It’s quiet right now, there’s a lot less people than usual. Everyone is either burnt out or they just got here. One of the Matriarchs is in the hospital for exhaustion. People are trying to recover a little bit before Build Week.
MOTH, early to mid-thirties, shaved-off eyebrows, here for the third time this summer, I think for a court date, or maybe just in support of Blackberry’s court date:
I had friends involved in the Mountain Valley Pipeline struggle, they had friends involved in Line 3, and through that, we decided to come here to Camp Migizi, especially after hearing that it was a queer, trans-friendly, anarchist space.
BLACKBERRY, quit academia during Covid, “not gonna die for that shit,” active in urban policing and housing struggles:
I wanted to learn more about direct action for the work that we do in the city, but then I immediately caught a felony in West Virginia, came here, and caught a second felony that same week.
BLACKBERRY AND MOTH:
TROUT, formerly successful visual artist who gave it up because there was no point, they said, in depicting activism when they could just do it:
This particular camp is really gay and that’s really cool.
BELA: How long are you going to stay?
DEER: Not sure. Maybe until it gets cold.
BELA: Do you know how to build stuff?
DEER: No? But I think I can learn.
Line 3 carries tar sands — a mixture of clay, sand, water, and a semi-solid form of petroleum called bitumen — from Alberta, Canada, to a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, where it is transferred and sold for export. The heaviest and therefore dirtiest form of fuel, tar sands produce 15 percent more emissions than conventional oil. Running the new Line 3, say the Stop Line 3 movement leaders, is equivalent to operating fifty new coal-power plants, day in and day out, for years to come.
Enbridge has been responsible for at least eight hundred spills in the past fifteen years. Just during construction of the new Line 3, Enbridge pierced an underground aquifer, leading to the loss of an estimated fifty million gallons of groundwater during one of the worst droughts in Minnesota history. It took Enbridge a year to plug up that leak. There were at least twenty-eight frac-outs in summer 2021, releasing drilling fluid into formerly pristine wetlands and waterways. If not for the water protectors, they may have been left unmitigated.
They took a bus to Duluth, found someone on Grindr who was already at Migizi, and got a ride.
They took a bus to Duluth, found someone on Grindr who was already at Migizi, and got a ride.Tweet
Reservations along the Line 3 route include, from northwest to southeast, Red Lake, White Earth, Leech Lake, and Fond du Lac. The original Line 3 ran through Leech Lake and Fond du Lac. Leech Lake rejected renewing its section of pipeline and made a deal for its removal. Fond du Lac felt pressured in the other direction and agreed to Enbridge’s terms. They could either have the line go through their reservation or just south of it, through lands that they also had rights to but couldn’t live on. They were given two months to choose between these two evils, both of which put them in the dangerous position of continuing to live on a tar sands pipeline.
JAIKE SPOTTED WOLF, camp Matriarch, fierce actor and activist who came to support the camp from Seattle:
They basically had a gun to their head. If they let it run through the Rez, they could at least reap some benefits.
The Fond du Lac Band received an undisclosed payout for their compliance.
It has long been the strategy of colonial forces to divide and conquer among Indigenous peoples. The Line 3 negotiations weren’t any different. However, the region’s water is all interconnected. All of these nations’ ability to fish, hunt, and gather manoomin — wild rice, their sacred subsistence grain — will be impacted by any damage caused by Line 3. As will, of course, the safety and livelihoods of the settlers.
Indigenous groups leading the movement against Line 3 include the Giniw Collective, founded by Tara Houska; Winona LaDuke’s Honor the Earth; the Rise Coalition and environmental organization MN350, both founded by Nancy Beaulieu; and Camp Migizi. To “deal with” the protesters, Enbridge opened an escrow account to reimburse Minnesota state and local agencies for the cost of policing their private interests. After Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, which issued the permits for Line 3, law enforcement agencies received the largest payout from the escrow fund. Conflicts between protesters and the specially formed Northern Lights Task Force escalated to the police using LRADs (long range acoustic devices, also known as sound cannons), helicopters, rubber bullets, tear gas, and techniques they referred to as “pain compliance.” All this was paid for by Enbridge, and planned for in collaboration with Minnesota law enforcement based on case studies from Standing Rock.
Out of approximately nine hundred Line 3–related arrests since 2020, at least ninety-one protesters were charged with felonies. As of March 2022, sixty-six felony charges remained open. These numbers do not include the charges against Indigenous activists transferred to tribal courts. Felony charges, which vary from state to state but typically apply to violent crime and carry heavy penalties, are largely unprecedented for ecological protest. Direct actions along Line 3 were uniformly passive, involving no violence or property damage. Under most circumstances, such actions would result in the relatively minor misdemeanor charge of trespassing. But prosecutors wanted to create deterrents, and found creative ways to charge protesters with more serious crimes. Water protectors were charged with “assisted suicide” for climbing into and occupying sections of unused pipe, and “felony theft” for costing Enbridge money in the form of work stoppages by locking themselves to equipment or fences. Both carry penalties of up to ten years in prison. Meanwhile, a number of Line 3 activists subjected to “pain compliance” have sustained permanent facial paralysis in the form of Bell’s palsy.
As of January 2022, Enbridge had paid out $4.8 million to fund anti-protest policing.
Imagine if all these resources — the state’s, the corporation’s, law enforcement’s, the lawyers’ — went toward averting the mass extinction coming for us all, instead.
We sprawled on a slab of plywood spread over two wooden pallets, an island among the bulrushes, just on the outskirts of the communal center of camp, the fire and kitchen. Across from us, Yellow Jacket and Spade tended to the fledgling vegetable garden. Beyond lay the marshy field, then more trees, and most of the tents. A solar-light-lined footpath led all the way out the poop cube and into the woods behind it, where I never went, which Cassiopeia told me were really beautiful. Where they foraged the oyster mushrooms, where they saw a ruffed grouse.
At first, I didn’t understand why Woodpecker started the story of why they came to Migizi twenty years before they were even born. I’d only asked how they’d ended up here. They described the country their father had come from, the political circumstances under colonialism, their father’s departure to the United States, his college years in the ’70s, his embracing American leftism, then getting addicted to drugs through the ’80s, and finally, being shot in the back by his neighbor, a white woman, who accused him of putting a knife to her throat. He’d been blacked out. Woodpecker’s father (who was actually their biological uncle; they were adopted) was sentenced to twelve years in prison for attempted murder. When he got out, he was deported. He was able to return illegally to the US, but could not find steady work as a result. Woodpecker’s adoptive mother, also a white woman, was an RN at the county jail and then died when Woodpecker was 16.
WOODPECKER, 21, “I don’t care, use my real name,” in a burgundy velvet top with a rope for a belt; open, gregarious, wild laugh:
My mom had a heart attack because. Damn. Fuck. I don’t know. My mom was a smoker and had a heart attack in 2005 and then again in 2015, and also had a history of type 2 diabetes. I’m, like, dissecting this as though it’s all medical shit.
The EMTs came in and started doing CPR, just as my mom collapsed on the ground, and they didn’t even try to transport her. It was this whole weird scene where my mom knew that they weren’t gonna take care of her in that way because she was obese, she was four hundred pounds. She spent her whole life working in that system and then it killed her. Whether it’s like, the tobacco, the diabetes, the medical system, all these different Americanized angles — that really is what killed my mom at 55. And what deported my dad was like, his inability to do anything within this system because of his status after my mom passed away.
My mom had one biological sister and so I went to live with her, but she’s like super white, as fuck, and married to my uncle, who is Liberian, but sort of the same scene with the immigrant stuff, where it’s like, economic things, but also really Christian. I wasn’t out with them, because I’m queer or whatever, and my aunt knew from my mom and told me I have to keep it a secret from my uncle. Obviously that blew up nine months later.
I was dressing in drag for Halloween, being the president of the GSA of my school, going to theater practice five days of the fucking school week, bringing home rainbow flags and making posters and having all these queer kids over to sing like lalalala. I wanted to keep living my life and finish school, that was what my parents had wanted. I was still involved in everything, thinking that this is the way I’m gonna change the world, by getting people to VOTE!
I was like yeah, my aunt is not gonna like, kick me out for being gay, HAHA. But yeah, that happened. She didn’t say she was kicking me out for being gay, she said she was kicking me out because I always had(white lady voice)“one foot out the door,” and I’m like fuck, FUCK!!!!!!
She kicked me out and sent me back to [redacted]. AAAAAAAA!!!!
Woodpecker hadn’t lived in [redacted], to where their father had been deported, since they were 2. They didn’t speak the language.
WOODPECKER: So here I am in [redacted]. I was definitely really depressed at that time, addicted to opiates, and drinking a lot, and smoking a lot, and in a really bad mindset just because of everything that had happened that year.
Woodpecker’s father was also extremely depressed. He wanted to send Woodpecker to a Catholic school, which they refused to attend. Then they realized the ticket their aunt had bought them was not one-way, as they’d thought, but round-trip.
WOODPECKER: She wanted to have that little redemption, like, “You can come back here and go to college.” I got on a plane as soon as I realized that. There’s an international airport that services flights toward Hawaii or Japan, and Florida was the first stop back to the mainland United States. I was like, “I’ll just set up here. I’ve always wanted to go to Disney World.” HAHAAAAAAA!
So there I am, 16, just starting to get into sex work. Doing that whole scene. And just learning to hate white people SO MUCH. Like, I’m just gonna steal all their money (white lady voice) because they’re part of this whole capitalist system. And every time one of them knows that I’m underage and keeps trying to abuse me like that, I’m gonna absolutely burn everything that they fucking own. Very bad mindset, violent mindset, but I feel like that’s what I needed at the time.
I was rolling UP, like, AHHHHHHHH, MY GOSH, just like, absolutely being ruthless to all of these pedophiles in Florida. Ugh! Just learning to take care of myself in that way while still being sort of isolated, because I was just still emotionally isolated at that time, it was definitely really helpful to put ALL MY FUCKING FOCUS AND ANGER AND IDENTITY ONTO DECOLONIZATION.
After they turned 18, Woodpecker more or less stopped doing sex work and returned to their home state.
WOODPECKER: I started getting more active in things once I got back up north. Just a little bit at a time. I’d just show up and get on Grindr and just be like, “Hey, BIPOC folks, what’s going on here in your hood,” and just use these different tools to like get back in touch with marginalized folks. I have that save-a-ho complex. Like, “What do you need, do you need a spot to crash, do you need a shower, I have drag connections if you wanna get into something a little more friendly, I have money that you can use.”
That was in like, 2018. I went back to Florida in 2019, 2020, on this hitchhiking trip. Sorta to get back in touch with my ho connections, which I had lost — I knew they were in bad places with addiction — and also just to reconcile with my sugar daddies. And then the uprisings started. I was just like, OH MY GOSH, now is the time for BIPOC solidarity, here is where all of my intersectional identities meet, I am going to Minneapolis as soon as possible. And so I stole my sugar daddy’s fucking sports car, what is it called? It’s called, like, a Sky . . . I stole all of his shit and I fucking drove that shit all the way back from Florida. . . .
I’ve been trying to get into spaces I didn’t feel like I had access to before without BIPOC solidarity. Because these were like Black communities or Indigenous communities, who were put next to each other and had mutual aid with each other, but no real connection.
These white allies will show up to Camp Migizi and they’re like, “I don’t know what’s going on.” Sometimes they’re anarchists, or like, anarchist-adjacent, and like, “Let’s just fucking blow up the police,” and then they have to be like, “Waaaaait, let’s listen to what the people who live here say.”
Then we’ll come at it from all different angles. Black people will be like, “The police are primarily targeting Black bodies because they’re criminalized.” And Indigenous people will be like, “Yeah, and this has been going on for hundreds of years.” And the other people of color will be like, “Yeah, and whatever you do in movement spaces falls back on the people who are the victims of this racialization.” And then the queer people who are part of the queer BIPOC community will be like, “Yeah, and the more cishet and normative you are about this, the more marginalization there is working against making these spaces sustainable.” And all of these working together make for a more sustainable resistance.
“So what actually brought you up here, to Camp Migizi?” I asked again.
WOODPECKER: I was on Instagram trying to get back in touch with my culture and stuff and then I came across my AUNTIE, who’s doing media coordination out here. I was like, WHAT are you doing here, like, oh my gosh! And then, what are you doing HERE. And then, like, why am I not there, OH MY GOSH. And we got in touch and we’re actually related, too, so it’s awesome.
They took a bus to Duluth, found someone on Grindr who was already at Migizi, and got a ride.
Two of the three people who were supposed to do the dishes after dinner, as per the chore chart created at morning meeting, were not to be found. Even with extra hands, washing the dishes for thirty people without running water takes forever, especially after dark, which it will inevitably be once everyone is done eating (chili, mashed potatoes, and cassava flatbreads) and the stockpot of water for section one of the sink has finally successfully boiled over the fire. The good thing about the dark is that you can’t see how dirty the water starts to look almost instantly.
OWL, psychic, healer, letting a kitten stay with them on their bus, drying the dishes:
When I first got my bus, I was driving up the East Coast, and I was having a lot of visions of those first boats of colonizers coming in, and visions of people and of the land before colonization. Witnessing the pride of people and states on the East Coast about being the first colonizers — I was so disgusted by that. When I got to Maine, I saw a TikTok by Giiwedin. They said, “The grandmothers have been calling you for a long time, and many of you have not been listening or hearing that call. It’s time to come, now.” I came immediately. That was the first I had heard of Line 3 at all.
NEST, beautiful hippie, menacing us with an improvised song on the ukulele about how our doing the dishes was “what community looks like”:
That’s why I’m here, too! In the middle of summer, suddenly, every other video on my For You page started to be about Line 3.
Giiwedin is a young Anishinaabe activist whose videos about Line 3 regularly got tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of views. We love him. Indigenous — and often queer — TikTokers like Giiwedin, who came to the front lines, were a huge driver of why so many people engaged in, or at least learned about, the Line 3 struggle, attracting a younger and woker cohort than Standing Rock.
BUBBLE, also a beautiful hippie, with a very sad story back in their rural hometown they were trying to leave, but couldn’t, neutralizing NEST with their own harmonies about how disgusting the dishes were:
I don’t know why it started doing it to me. Maybe the algorithm was just listening to me?
Long after dinner, after the comrades who were supposed to have done the dishes came back with two garbage bags full of pastries and breads from behind the Panera, an Elder arrived from a many days’ journey away. They had tears in their eyes as we settled around the fire. They told us, trembling, of how they were stopped by police in Montana that morning. A cop had pointed a gun at them and their child, a veteran, because they refused to get into his front seat when asked, because their cargo pants pockets had looked full, and the cop had assumed that it was because they had a gun. It wasn’t a gun, just a ton of tobacco, for making offerings.
When the Elder spoke, everyone mm’d and ugh’d as one empathetic being. A loaf of dumpstered rosemary Asiago bread was toasted over the sacred fire.
Security shift, you sit in camp chairs and watch the stars through the dead of night or til sunrise. Invariably, at some point, you get creeped out. Is the sky getting bright? Why are there helicopters? Someone shot paint balls at all the cars parked in the ditch, but that was during the day. Probably somebody from the reservation who doesn’t want “crackhead white people” here, protesting what the community by and large approved of, and was getting paid for.
CASSIOPEIA, here with their partner from the East Coast, a little indefinitely because of their car being damaged parking in the ditch; reading aloud from a zine called Swarm: A Roving Caravan Strategy for Crushing Snakes and Other Capitalist Parasites :
“According to retired NASA scientist James Hansen, if Canada proceeds [in building the pipeline], and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate. . . . Twenty to fifty percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction.”
I might as well ask.
BELA: What do you think of extinction?
CASSIOPEIA: Well, I have a background in ecology and right now, we’re in the sixth mass extinction event. The loss of biodiversity is not only a tragedy, especially to watch and feel very helpless in the face of, but also a massive Fuck You to future generations that will never be able to experience it or its untold benefits.
BELA: Do you want to have children?
CASSIOPEIA: No. I don’t ever plan to have children, but that’s a personal decision I can make for myself. I don’t have the consent of the other humans on this planet to say Y’all should just die off.
RUSH, “radicalized over Zoom,” incoming college sophomore, renaissance mind:
Sorry I’m late.
Rush had slept through the first hour and a half of our shift together because they had done the 4–7 AM shift the night before. They settled in. The whole reason I had signed up to do this security shift was to ask if Rush would tell me about Red Lake. They were one of the few people still at Migizi who’d been there.
I had been scared to ask my Migizi comrades about Red Lake. A lot of people had gotten felonies there, which made it unsafe to discuss, especially with strangers. There’d been a lot of violence. People were repeatedly asked not to bring up traumatic or violent experiences in public spaces because other people in earshot could find these conversations upsetting. Many BIPOC who’d had previous experiences with police brutality and the system found the way that white comrades discussed their interactions with the police disturbing and naive. My desire to know what had happened felt almost prurient and exploitative, like I was hungry to hear about violence. At the same time, it seemed important to hear firsthand accounts of what had perhaps been the most intense battle in this whole struggle. Rush said they were willing to share.
The Red Lake Treaty Camp was established by Sasha Beaulieu of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa in St. Hilaire, Minnesota, in December 2020, shortly after the state approved the last of the Line 3 permits. Enbridge intended to run Line 3 underneath Red Lake River, and Beaulieu was appointed tribal monitor by the Red Lake Tribal Council to oversee Enbridge’s work. (Tribal monitors are guaranteed this right by the National Historic Preservation Act.) But when construction began, nobody ever allowed her on the site.
In a matter of minutes we’d stopped work and started costing Enbridge thousands of dollars in delayed labor.
In a matter of minutes we’d stopped work and started costing Enbridge thousands of dollars in delayed labor.Tweet
Enbridge has been illegally running pipelines through Red Lake Band land for more than seventy years without permission, in flagrant violation of treaty rights. The Band has never received compensation, and is currently suing Enbridge. Although the Red Lake Treaty Camp was on public and not reservation land, the Band still had rights to that land according to the Old Crossing Treaty they signed in 1863, which ceded most of northern Minnesota to the United States. These rights were affirmed during the first days of drilling in June 2021, when Enbridge tried to evict the camp and was not able to because of the treaty rights. According to that Old Crossing Treaty, the Anishinaabe retain not only hunting, fishing, and traveling rights on this land, but also the usufructuary rights to everything less than six inches below the surface of the soil, meaning the water and minerals. According to the letter of the law, the Red Lake Band should have had the final say on what was happening. Instead, they’re forced to fight to uphold basic rights in court and pray on land where they could be arrested as they pray. Which is what happened during the protests at Red Lake.
Enbridge began to drill under the Red Lake River in the middle of a drought. Putting the pipeline under the river required dewatering when water levels were already at record lows. The Department of Natural Resources should have halted construction. Instead, even as Enbridge’s original permit allowed them to move 510 million gallons of water in the middle of this historic drought, the department allowed them to change this number to five billion without consulting the tribes or the public. Wildlife boiled to death in the shallow puddles left of the river or suffocated on parched ground.
Manoomin, which grows in the area’s lakes, is very sensitive — the crop is disturbed by any changes in water level. If you manage to kill the manoomin, it’s extremely difficult to grow back.
The Red Lake Camp sat at the single longest river crossing along the Line 3 route, which made it a key point of tactical resistance. It was also one of the last crossings left for Line 3 to make. Even though construction on Line 3 was 60 percent complete by early June, setting Enbridge back here seemed crucial. More and more people arrived and joined water protectors in staging direct actions; every day, the security around the worksite and confrontations with police grew more intense. In order to finish their work as quickly as they could under the mounting pressure, Enbridge began running construction around the clock, seven days a week. The police escalated to using chemical weapons and rubber and pepper bullets on protesters.
One of the people shot during a late July confrontation was the attorney and Giniw Collective founder Tara Houska, who was subsequently hospitalized and then held in solitary detention for several days without further medical treatment. “People were shot in their faces,” she told Democracy Now! of the incident. “I saw a young woman’s head get split open right in front of me.”
Rush arrived there in mid-July.
RUSH: The word that was going around was apocalyptic. It was really intense when I got there. People were being teargassed and pepper sprayed and had pretty severe chemical burns. There was so much anxiety.
The camp was between a road, a river, a graveyard, and the drill pad. We camped in a ditch on the side of the road next to the double barbed-wire fence. There was a drill going all day and all night. It was extremely loud. By the time I got there, the police had installed an insane floodlight, shining on us when we tried to sleep. People weren’t sleeping.
The police made a little hill and they stood on it, surveilling camp 24/7. Taking notes, watching us through binoculars. The river was only a few feet high because of the drought. It was so hot every day. It was also during the forest fires, so everything happened in a haze and smelled like smoke.
Water protectors also faced intimidation from pipeline workers and local pipeline supporters, who sometimes went so far as to run them off the road, driving their trucks at them as though intending to ram them. With total impunity.
RUSH: While I was there, we managed five work stoppages. People locked themselves to machinery. As construction proceeded, there was a rolling sense of what we needed to blockade and what we had to do to make it happen. A lot of us learned about horizontal directional drilling from textbooks online. Basically, they scoop out a hole under the river for the pipe to go through. If you can interrupt work between when they scoop the hole out and when they put the pipe through, that whole tunnel collapses. This happened at the Willow River. If we had achieved a collapse, it would have been our biggest victory. We would have put them back weeks.
Dozens of protesters climbed the barbed wire fences around the worksite and locked themselves to equipment, which became harder each day.
RUSH: Getting people close enough to the machines to attach themselves became more and more complicated. By the time of the last big action, there were between fifty and sixty cops on the drill pad plus fifty to sixty of them outside. Cops outnumbered the workers and protesters. It was all so grossly disproportionate and militarized. The people who sent them were really scared of us, which is actually sort of touching because we are mostly a group of random, completely regular people. And yet our presence necessitated an entire platoon of state troopers, sheriffs from farther out than even the Twin Cities, a massive response from the entire state of Minnesota.
A few days later, I got to talk about Red Lake to Sedge, who had been at these camps since February and was planning on staying indefinitely. I asked them about the experience of locking down. Allegedly.
SEDGE, homeless anarchist, son of two Jewish doctors, seems somehow injured, voice rasping:
This cop came to sit next to me, just for an hour of it, and he was trying to debate with me. He walked up to the drill and sat next to me. I forget what he said first, something like, “Are you sure that you’re not too hot?” And I was like, “Fuck you, I’m obviously not overheating, and if I did, I would unclip myself from this thing and go get some water.” He was trying to trick me, like, “You can take a sip of some of your water, you can unlock yourself in front of me and drink some water, I won’t arrest you.” Are you fucking kidding me? I don’t trust you.
The goddamn construction workers were already throwing me water. They were, like, happy to have me there, they’re still getting paid. I was already unclipping whenever I needed to light up a cigarette and they were far enough away that I could do it and have enough time to lock back in.
I don’t think I even gave him a chance to say much else. I was just like, “You should quit your job.” At one point I started saying something like “this pipeline that you’re helping build,” and he was like, “I’m not helping build the pipeline.” He literally thought he was just there, protecting private property. He said he knew nothing about politics.
Finally, they cut through the lockbox. It was one of the PVC ones with Quikrete and chicken wire and then a layer of duct tape on top of all that. And the guy that cut me off wasn’t even getting paid. He didn’t work there. He was a volunteer. A random guy from the area. I was like, “Wow, you must really want this pipeline to go through to be volunteering like this.” And he said, “No, I just like to help.”
I said, “Why are you helping them and not helping us? Then you’d really be helping.” Just that basic. He didn’t have anything to say to that.
Sedge then rasped a dry laugh and lit up a cigarette.
If I had met Indigenous activists who understood the land as sacred and who saw it as their land, what would they have told me of this same period of struggle?
Enbridge completed the crossing on August 4.
RUSH: There are many reasons why we failed. First of all, it was our sense of urgency. How frantic we felt deteriorated our judgment and communication. Second of all, our plan got too complicated, especially considering the fact that we were working with people who were at the limit of exhaustion and didn’t know one another that well. Third of all, we were actually extremely close to making it happen. At the most critical moment, we got tackled when we were really close to the drill. The police broke [redacted]’s leg. Twenty-five people were arrested that night. The rest of us grieved.
I also talked about Red Lake to an immigrant water protector who didn’t feel safe doing direct actions because an arrest would potentially endanger their status. They also hadn’t wished to be in confrontation with the police because so many family members had gone through the system. This person was very young. They feel so tender to me, I can’t even give them a fake name. They were also there on the last day of the fight at Red Lake.
[ ]: There was a lot of loss, a lot of pain, knowing the pipe was in. There was a lot of fear. Leaving felt very hard. It felt shameful not to stick with these people. I worry that people are just gonna leave after everything’s finished, after the pipeline is done. When really, it’s just the beginning. There’s so much to do to support these communities.
We need more emotional support, more mutual aid. There’s a danger of turning our backs on the people who came out with felonies. We need to have more conversations about how people will go on supporting one another after everything’s done.
HORNET, combat boots, long legs, singing and whistling to themselves as they walked past my tent to theirs in the morning:
When I was little, I thought that I was adopted. I had no idea where I came from.
Hornet had a white mother and an Indigenous father. Their mother broke up with their father and cut off contact with him when Hornet was really young.
Hornet was 23 and two years free of hospitalization for mental illness. They had come to Migizi because they had just gotten out of a bad relationship and learned about Line 3 on TikTok; they decided to do something on their own for the first time that would challenge them, and allow them to reconnect to their Indigeneity.
HORNET: I have been disconnected from my Indigeneity my whole life. I even had an auntie who told me that I didn’t look [redacted], which kind of hurt. I didn’t get to choose my parents! Then on my white side, it’s a whole ’nother thing. So I always felt like I just didn’t belong anywhere. I came out here just to be with people who share these ideals and are also struggling with the same thing.
Hornet was one of many people who told me that before they came to Migizi, they never had any real friends, much less a community. The strongest bonds in the Migizi community were built between people like them.
Hornet’s most intense experience at Migizi had taken place the previous weekend, just before I arrived. Two thousand protesters from all over the country had gathered in front of the Capitol Building in St. Paul for a four-day rally beginning on Wednesday, August 25. They demanded that Minnesota governor Tim Walz and President Biden honor the treaties the US government had signed with their ancestors and immediately cease Enbridge’s work on Line 3.
Water protectors from Camp Migizi marched into the rally with the Treaty People Gathering Walk for Water, completing a two-week and 230-mile-long protest march to the Capitol.
HORNET: We did that last mile and a half in silence. Just being there with my comrades and friends that I’d made in the BIPOC space. One comrade let me borrow their banded skirt, so I’m in traditional wear, and being with my Indigenous peoples, and feeling so supported and loved.
Tepees had been erected on the Capitol lawn for the rally, but they were sanctioned to be there only until the evening. The demonstrators had no plans to leave. Even though the police told them they would begin dispersing them at 10 PM, the water protectors had come to occupy the lawn. They held an all-night ceremony for the water.
HORNET: I was fortunate enough to be inside the tepee experiencing the ceremony. That made me feel so connected to my Indigeneity, just being there and being able to hold that space. We all thought that we were gonna get taken at 10 PM, we all were just being prepared to get thrown in jail. Luckily, that didn’t happen. We were able to have ceremony all night. But then, the next morning, when people were taking a break, using the restroom, getting some rest, that’s when the police decided to move in.
When they started pushing and ripping apart the soft blockade that comrades had formed in front of the tepee door, I tried to push myself through that police wall. I was screaming, LET THEM PRAY, LET THEM PRAY, and me and a few of my BIPOC comrades were immediately pushed to the ground. I luckily didn’t get too banged up, but I couldn’t help but just sob, I was crying my eyes out, just witnessing all the anger and hate in their eyes. I just couldn’t understand any of it.
The next day, it was Taysha’s birthday, and they locked themselves to the gates of the Governor’s Mansion, demanding to speak to Governor Walz. A large group of water protectors marched to the Governor’s Mansion in support.
HORNET: Somebody had mentioned, “Oh there’s a back gate in the alley,” and I just, with no thoughts, started going back there. I was leading a small group of allies and we were all just banging on the gate, like, “Let us talk to Tim! Have us talk to Tim!” That’s when the police started to move in. So me and my allies decided to sit down at that back gate and lock arms and hold hands. We were singing songs.
A grasshopper sat right on my knee the whole entire time. And I just knew that I was gonna be OK. The grasshopper was there the whole time until the police grabbed me.
I didn’t realize how bad it was until I watched the video. I had huge bruises on my side, on my arms. I had gravel on my face that I didn’t realize was there until I got to the housing unit. It was really intense. I could have freaked out, I could have panicked, but that grasshopper just — it was my ancestors. That’s all I have to say. It was my ancestors telling me that I’m going to be OK.
Sixty-nine protesters were arrested during that action.
HORNET: Funny fucking thing is, jail is a lot like mental hospitals. So I was very prepared for the isolation, the meals, the plastic furniture. It’s so fucked up. I said that to a CO and they were like, “Hahaha, yup.” They didn’t understand how that’s fucked up.
I didn’t have a phone call. Nobody read me my rights. Nobody told me what I was charged with. Nobody would answer my questions. They strip-searched me, made me squat and cough, I saw the X-ray machine right fucking there, and they still stripped me, and that’s when I asked, “So does this mean I’m staying?” And they were like, “Yup.”
Most of the times I’d seen Jason Goward he’d been at the fire, singing and drumming. Right now he was drinking coffee, on break from taking apart a deer that someone had found warm on the side of the road; it’d been hit by a car. Through intermittent rain, Jason was in the Migizi driveway preparing the deer in the traditional way. Praying, stretching and smoking the hide, and smoking the head. It would take two days to complete.
JASON GOWARD, Fond du Lac, has lived here all his life; gathers berries and hunts, too, but reluctantly, more of a trapper and a fisherman, even in winter, when it gets below 40 degrees:
Honestly, I’d rather get some McDonald’s. I have cleaned way too many deer in my life.
Ever since he got sober eight years ago, Jason has been involved in feeding people at homeless shelters and helping them with addiction and mental health. That’s how he started working with Taysha, whom he has known all his life. They take care of each other and call each other best friend.
JASON: Taysha’s how I got exposed to these ideas.
He used to work on the pipeline.
JASON: I was working on it last winter. I saw all the shortcuts they took. We didn’t have no bathroom, no water. There were OSHA violations up and down. I got laid off and then hired again in December. When we started up, we had no bathrooms, no heat, and they lowered our pay. On top of that, I started seeing the environmental violations and engineering shortcuts. A lot of that stuff wasn’t being documented at all.
A truck spilled 150 gallons of fuel into a river that fed into the Mississippi.
I couldn’t take any more. I started to whistleblow. I called OSHA, the ACLU, the DNR, the MPCA [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency], and the news media.
Jason decided to quit his job and go over to the side of the resistance led by Taysha. He had seen her protesting at his job sites. According to an article about them in Indian Country Today, she told him that she was not angry at him for taking a job that would allow him to pay child support for his two sons and cover his basic needs in an area where jobs like that were hard to come by. But his conscience forced him to quit.
He told Indian Country Today, “I feel so relieved. I had so much guilt, embarrassment, and shame hurting my ancestral lands.”
For Jason, working on Camp Migizi and resisting the pipeline is the clearest, best way forward for their community and their land.
JASON: We’re building a permanent base of operations for resistance, with permanent, warm structures. We’re creating a cultural center for decolonization. We are going to be fighting up here in the Upper Midwest permanently, for our Native youth’s futures and for a more sustainable world.
We will support anyone on the fringes of society. Native youth will find emotional support here, and physical, and spiritual, and maybe even some financial support. All four parts of medicine. You’ll definitely get some cigarettes. And help with addiction.
Jason has struggled to work ever since he began protesting, especially after locking down to equipment gave him a criminal record. He’s been surviving on odd jobs and mutual aid. It’s hard.
JASON: I’m surviving, though. I’d do it all again. Knowing that if I stopped the pipeline, I could always eat and sell rice.
At the time of this conversation, neither of us knew that Enbridge had pierced an aquifer on Fond du Lac land. Neither the corporation nor the Band, who were notified, would report it until the spring of 2022. If the manoomin is damaged, there might not be any rice for Jason to eat and sell, next year or at all, ever again.
My last day at Migizi, I was about to leave when suddenly Taysha stomped into the center of camp in black combat boots, a yellow plaid miniskirt, and a Slipknot T-shirt.
TAYSHA: Who wants to go get arrested?
We turned off our phones and hid them away, joking about how they’d probably already bugged the trees. Half-joking, really. Since that was something they really did do during Standing Rock, people were saying.
TAYSHA: We’re going to Line 4. It’s not Line 3, but it’s Enbridge. We’re still fighting Enbridge. If you’re not going to participate in the action, clear the area now.
It was the first day of Build Week, which had gotten off to a chaotic start. There were plenty of people brand new to the camp, and others like me who had never done a direct action before and were eager to do one. Some of the people who’d been around longer, like Rush, were wary. A handful of people who had been at the Capitol immediately knew they didn’t want to come.
Locking down to Line 4 meant doing something the Camp had informally promised the reservation not to do: to take action on Fond du Lac land. We’d done it once before, showed up at a worksite, but without a lockdown.
TAYSHA: You’re going to see some real trashy shit. There’s gonna be counterprotesters.
She meant her aunt and her cousins, who knew we were coming and would be there to heckle us, especially Taysha.
People who wanted to be considered for the Red Role — a small handful willing to lock down and risk felony charges — gathered to discuss what it would entail with people who had done it before. Me and maybe twenty others who agreed to do the Yellow Role huddled in the library yurt. Only three or four of us had ever done a direct action before, so we were briefed on what would go down by a teenage veteran, Bee. It was confusing and very rushed — the end of the workday was coming fast. Being Yellow, we were willing to trespass on the construction site and risk arrest in the event of our disobeying the police order to disperse.
Taysha started a chant, “Fuck the Enbridge Corporation/We Stand with Indigenous Nations,” to drown them out, all the while smiling and typing into their phone.
Taysha started a chant, “Fuck the Enbridge Corporation/We Stand with Indigenous Nations,” to drown them out, all the while smiling and typing into their phone.Tweet
How were we going to make that decision? I had a lot of questions, but we had to go, crowding one another, crawling out of the yurt, rushing to put on the right shoes and get our IDs so that we would be processed faster if we got arrested. One by one, we were handed our plywood shields, with ropes going through them so they could be worn on the body. A reflective material was stuck to the outside, for pipeline workers and the police to see themselves in. I somehow ended up sockless in hiking boots and lost my driver’s license forever. About an hour after Taysha’s call to action we marched out the gates.
Taysha was up front with Jason, who was carrying a drum. Once we turned onto the faster and bigger road, where the worksite was located, Bee led a call-and-response chant: “You can’t drink oil / Keep it in the soil.” It took less than fifteen minutes to approach the worksite. Jason played the drum and sang intermittently. He was hoarse from smoking the deer hide. When we got within earshot of the workers, he led us in a different call-and-response: “Paid time off! / Paid time off!” The moment we got on the site, they would be required to stop all work.
The easement was a path of long four-by-fours maybe, running alongside the ditch the pipeline lay in. One step your foot was on the road, the next, you were on the easement, a climate activist interrupting extraction. An excavator began backing up as soon as we started making our way toward the rear of the site. We were still chanting when I caught sight of two comrades lying in the ditch, locked to the pipeline: Yellow Jacket, a very young trans man who’d borrowed my car, and Venus, a Black femme who had arrived that morning. Nothing protected them from the sun or the workers and some of us stayed behind to watch over them. Me, I pressed on to the end of the worksite, I wanted to see how far we would go.
I couldn’t believe how easy it was. We were just there, we’d simply walked in on our feet, and look now: a comrade, a young Indigenous veteran of Red Lake, was running in front of a moving excavator, waving their arms, telling the worker to stop, a tiny body in front of a massive machine. We chased after them, and the machine came to a halt almost instantly. Just like that. The worker stepped out and walked past us, lighting a cigarette. In a matter of minutes we’d stopped work and started costing Enbridge thousands of dollars in delayed labor. I felt inappropriately light and flippant, lighter and freer and more relaxed than I’d felt all week. Not ecstatic, but loose. And really, truly free. It was happening, we did something.
Blackberry took advantage of the opportunity to show some of us around the equipment and site, suggesting spots where one could, if they wanted, consider locking to.
BLACKBERRY: (Pointing) Take a look at it.
The pipeline was white and looked plastic and stretched back toward the horizon through the clear-cut expanse between the trees.
BEE: That’s some fucking ugly shit.
Within minutes the cops arrived and issued the first dispersal order through a bullhorn. Maitake, an experienced police liaison from organizing back home, was training Owl. Together they walked back from the police to the group standing around Venus and Yellow Jacket, who were still locked down in the ditch.
OWL: (Smoking a cigarette, barefoot) How are you doing down there?
VENUS: We’re fine.
But they seemed scared.
Maitake said the police were about to give a second dispersal warning. And indeed, an officer began to read off a little note card saying we had two minutes to leave before they would begin to arrest us, or maybe before they would give us another warning. It wasn’t clear.
OWL: (To Venus) Do you want people to stay here with you in a soft blockade?
Venus wanted to tell us that we could just go and leave them, but couldn’t quite say it that easily. Yellow Jacket said nothing. We conferred with an experienced comrade who took the lead, although obliquely, because anarchism.
THE ANARCHIST: We can stay and do a soft blockade, but at this point, strategically, I don’t think it makes sense to have a mass arrest. That would mean a lot of resources for bailing us all out, and —
We had made no decision about what we would do at this point when we had glossed over it back at camp, and we didn’t have time to come to some kind of collective agreement now. Everyone was on their own with their feelings, torn between a potentially nonstrategic and expensive arrest or leaving behind two vulnerable comrades who would clearly feel better with our immediate protection. The bullhorn started up again. Our time was up.
White Snake, an Elder and activist who’d come for Build Week, and I were the first to begin walking off the site. White Snake’s felony charges for locking down to another site had just been dismissed after nine months of uncertainty; they’d faced up to twenty years in prison for terrorism. I’d been convinced by the argument that it didn’t make sense to drain the jail support resources if we weren’t doing a big mass arrest. Most of the others followed us back to the road, glad that a handful stayed back in a soft blockade.
A crowd stood watching: Taysha, Jason, people from camp who had come to cheer us on, some comrades who’d left the site at the first dispersal order. I was still feeling some lightness as I stood next to Rush, who had come after all, and was grumbling about not understanding the tactics and strategy, anxious and tense. Across the street were the counterprotesters Taysha had promised. Taysha’s aunt and cousins. They waved plastic placards for Minnesotans for Line 3, a fake pro-pipeline advocacy group sponsored by Enbridge.
COUNTERPROTESTERS: (Taunting) How many of y’all are enrolled tribal members?
The two Indigenous people standing behind me, who indeed made up the minority of us there, wanted to shout back at them but resisted.
COUNTERPROTESTERS: Line 3 is finished! What are you doing here?
Taysha started a chant, “Fuck the Enbridge Corporation/We Stand with Indigenous Nations,” to drown them out, all the while smiling and typing into their phone.
I could still hear them shouting at us, something like, “All Hail Taysha!” like they knew that that is what Taysha is the most uncomfortable with, the idea of being worshipped.
Blackberry and Rock, an activist who had been on hunger strike for the past five days while sleeping in their car, stepped onto the easement and headed toward the police. Rock, who is Black, had decided to get arrested alongside Venus so that they wouldn’t be the only Black person in custody, thinking that this would make them feel safer. Blackberry wanted to help with negotiations and see if Venus and Yellow Jacket needed help unlocking in case they wanted to do it themselves instead of getting cut off the pipe by the cops.
A few minutes later, we saw the first of our comrades who’d soft blockaded being led to the waiting squad cars in handcuffs. When the last of the soft blockaders, including Bee, were loaded into the squad cars, Taysha told us that unless we were filming, we should head back to camp.
“We see you / We love you / We will be fighting for you,” we chanted toward our chained comrades as we retreated. We walked past the counterprotesters loading their signs back into their truck.
COUNTERPROTESTERS: Such a pretty dress, Taysha! Looks like she went to the mall.
Blackberry made it back from the easement without getting arrested again. They’d seen something that only the people who got arrested that day, and the cops, had seen.
BLACKBERRY: The owner of the land showed up with a semi-automatic rifle and he was standing there with it over our comrades until the cops made him take all the ammo out. Then he was just standing around with it hanging off him on this little hill, watching the whole thing.
It felt insane leaving our comrades in the ditch like that. In the hands of the police. In the dry and desecrated earth, under the anger and irritation of the police and the workers and hecklers. Treating us like we’re crazy, and useless, and dangerous, too. Thinking about what could happen to our comrades, the jobs they wouldn’t be able to get, the way their families would respond, the legal tangles, the threat of jail time, all of which they might not even yet fathom, and we had abandoned them. What if those had been comrades I’d gotten close with, would I not want to stay in the soft blockade, would I not come even closer to volunteering to lock down myself?
Stronger bonds might have made it possible for me to make sacrifices. And thereby to gain a sense of identification and belonging. It feels so sad, even when I want it to just feel utopian, optimistic, and hopeful. Which it also is. The sacrifices, the damage, the stress, the sense of futility. Fear at cutting ties with the dream of comfort, exchanging it for the dream of fighting instead of accepting, complicitly, the revolting, psychotic ecocide we inflict on ourselves and on all life on Earth.
The last person I talked to at camp was Osha, a child of immigrants who was raised in a city. Their parents had been traumatized by the way their native country had forced their relationship to the land; they were afraid of nature. But Osha couldn’t follow the path their parents had set out for them. They had left college to live as an itinerant farmer and shepherd.
I wish you could hear their slow, melodious, and intentional voice, speaking simply and directly of the connection and relationships possible for each of us with the land. Like other immigrants I’d talked to, I asked Osha what they thought about displacement, dispossession, being placeless on settler land, and how that related to participating in Indigenous movements. Osha said something about the intention to “re-Indigenize.”
BELA: What does that word mean to you?
OSHA: For me, it means belonging to a place. And taking on the responsibility of taking care of it. It’s not normal for us to not be rooted in a place, or, within tribe, and so I hope that that’s the direction that we’re moving toward.
I had to ask:
BELA: Can tribe be built?
OSHA: Of course. A lot of prophecies say, in this time that we’re in now, the tribes are gonna be of all colors, and it seems true.
And it seems true. After I got back to the center of camp, I found one of the books that contained this prophecy, called Warriors of the Rainbow. And later, I learned that this book was actually an Evangelical tract, aimed at Christianizing Native Americans. A weapon of genocide.
I’m sure that Osha didn’t know that. And I’m not sure they would think it really mattered.
OSHA: Whatever story is running in our head is gonna be the one that we project out and continue creating in our world, right?
According to a September 2021 report from the Indigenous Environmental Network, over the past ten years, Indigenous Resistance has “stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least 25 percent of annual US & Canadian emissions.” Although Indigenous people make up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the lands they manage contain 80 percent of the Earth’s biodiversity.
There are many conversations about what can make climate and ecological activism more effective. Tara Houska often reminds interviewers that thousands of people were trained in direct action in the course of the Stop Line 3 movement. They were trained to go onto easements and hold their ground and interact with police. To self-organize and cohabitate in Indigenous-led multicultural spaces. To think on their feet and take responsibility for their choices, even in dangerous situations. They formed deep bonds with one another, the movement, and the land they defended. Many will take these skills and knowledge and relationships to the next front line.
The formation of these relationships and communities, the development of these skills — even before there are “victories” — what else strikes so hard at the root?3
With the exception of Indigenous activists like Taysha, Jaike, and Jason, the names of people I spoke to have been changed. Interviews have been edited and condensed for publication. ↩
A four-day rally in St. Paul that began on Wednesday, August 25, 2021. ↩
Thank you to Nick Estes (the Red Nation), Alleen Brown (the Intercept), and Mary Anette Pember (Indian Country Today), without whose work this essay would not have been possible. ↩