In early June, United Methodists from Minnesota and other people of faith from as far away as Alaska, California and Puerto Rico joined with indigenous and environmental justice groups at the Treaty People Gathering, a three-day event of education, training, and non-violent direct action related to construction of an oil pipeline across Native American treaty territory and Minnesota waterways.
Enbridge — a Canadian oil pipeline company — began construction in December 2020 of the controversial $9 billion pipeline designed to carry 760,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil from Canada. If construction is not halted, the pipeline will cross many waterways in northern Minnesota, as well as areas protected by the 1842, 1854, and 1855 treaties.
Water Protectors note that pipelines leak — even new pipelines. And this “replacement” pipeline takes an entirely new route through much of northern Minnesota, likely exposing new areas to oil pollution. According to the Stop Line 3 fact sheet, the new Line 3 will “cross more than 200 water ecosystems and tunnel under 20 rivers, including the Mississippi River — twice.” The project will threaten many of the wetlands where wild rice grows — areas that are a “foundation for the Objibwe people’s traditional way of life and spiritual practice.”
The pipeline would also exacerbate climate change. The Environmental Impact Statement estimates the social cost of carbon from this project at $287 billion dollars. Line 3 is designed to transport tar sands crude, as well as other types of oil. Tar sands require more energy to extract and refine the oil, leading to greater greenhouse gas emissions than conventional crude oil.
Resistance to Line 3 has been led by indigenous groups who have been fighting the pipeline through participation in the regulatory process, legal action, and demonstrations in the streets. In June, they welcomed a broad coalition to join them to learn about the treaties that are the supreme law of the land for both native and non-native people, and to support them in a demonstration of resistance and opposition to the Line 3 construction already underway. Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light (MNIPL) in partnership with GreenFaith, the national IPL and with support from United Methodist Women hosted a 300 person multi-faith delegation to the Treaty People Gathering that drew around 2,000 people from across the country. Participants were urged to contact President Biden and their federal legislators and to share their experience with others in their home communities.
Several United Methodist participants gave their perspectives on the Gathering.
Diane Krueger said she attended largely because of the support and encouragement of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light organization. Diane said she felt “warmly received” by the Indigenous leaders of the Gathering.
“I particularly appreciated that this gathering was being led by native people, primarily native women, and that we, as non-native supporters, were repeatedly encouraged to honor their leadership and accept our role as followers.”
For Reverend Dana Neuhauser the gathering of people from various faiths and backgrounds made the event more powerful. The event drew faith groups from Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim faith organizations.
“To see all these people traveling to oppose Line 3 even though they didn’t have the same local motivation — that was really powerful, especially after the year of pandemic. To be gathered with folks to make a faith-filled stand against the Line 3 pipeline in a way that was really rooted in community, fellowship and following indigenous leaders [gave] a quality to our gathering that was deeply nourishing.”
Cathy Velasquez Eberhart decided to go after many years of being active with Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light doing climate justice work. But she also was motivated to go because her 19-year-old daughter wanted to go after taking a religion class on water.
“My daughter said a quick ‘yes’ to going when I mentioned the idea. At the gathering, she was soaking it all up. I asked her about the highlights. She said the prayer ceremony at the lake the first night and the training that happened on the second day which opened her eyes to activism. She was already feeling the urge to do more of this work so this was a powerful experience, probably just the beginning of her journey since she’s considering a major in environmental studies,” said Velasquez Eberhart.
The Treaty People Gathering featured remarks from author and founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben and local indigenous leaders including Dawn Goodwin and Nancy Beaulieau of RISE.
Beaulieu, a tribal member of the Leech Lake reservation in Minnesota explained to the gathering that the environmental costs of the pipeline were a part of the larger issue of the violation of treaty rights.
Shirley Durr came away from the Treaty People Gathering hoping to invite Nancy Beaulieu to come and speak to her community. Durr said that Beaulieu “went through a presentation on the treaties in a way I had never heard before. I really hope she will come and talk to our congregation. . . a great number of our people are interested in climate change and racial justice. Our theme for our church this year is Year of Justice.” Durr also credited United Methodist Women as one of the sponsors to support the Stop Line 3 initiative as part of a grant from their Just Energy For All campaign.
The sense of community, prayer circle and singing that honored tribal rights were particularly meaningful for many who attended.
Diane Krueger said, “I found it very meaningful to sing the Nibi (water) Song, in Ojibwe. Singing this song with hundreds of others served to reinforce our mission to protect the water and also acknowledged that we were marching on land stolen from native people.”
For Dana Neuhauser the event was also a reminder of the need to repair past wrongs however possible, including for United Methodists.
“The United Methodist church, and other Christian denominations have colluded with various programs and practices that have been opposed to Native peoples and harmed Native peoples over the whole history of European contact. We were gathered there [at the Treaty People Gathering] just days after the announcement of the discovery of the children’s burial at the boarding school in Canada. It was lifted up…that it’s not just a Canadian issue, it’s a US issue, and it’s a Minnesota issue. There were boarding schools in various places in Minnesota. So that is our history too and we need to reckon with that.
“Even United Methodists, from where I stand, had control over Native American boarding schools. So, there is this part of our history that we can’t ignore. But, for me, the part is really leaning into the truth telling of that hard history that we’ve taken part in and have been perpetrators of over generations. But also, to approach it with a posture of confession, repentance, with an air of humility — what can we, as church, be doing in community with indigenous peoples to bring repair to the relationship.”
Reverend Neuhauser also pointed out the connection between defending water ways and the sacrament of baptism.
“Our welcoming to the church family comes to us through the waters of baptism and so to not stand against something that can harm our literal waters feels really wrong.”
“Even the baptismal vow — ‘to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves’. . . that’s the promise we make at baptism — is rooted in water. So, to not collectively resist the injustice and oppression that’s being played out against indigenous peoples feels really wrong.”