Monday, Oct. 11, was Indigenous Peoples’ Day in this country that we like to call America. Many places and people still refer to it as “Columbus Day,” but speaking as a Catholic Italian-American, we don’t need any sort of “recognition” anymore, and even if we did why would we choose to venerate a man who claimed to “discover” a land that millions of individuals and thousands of cultures already inhabited? In order to commemorate Indigenous People’s Day in tandem with our first indigenous Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Joe Biden became the first president to give an official announcement marking the day celebrating the native people of Turtle Island. He also signed a proclamation restoring multiple monuments sacred to indigenous peoples, including the Bears Ears monument in Utah, whose lands were diminished sharply by former President Trump in 2017. These are, by any measure, important steps towards racial justice. But it is not enough.
Some people may say that no matter what Biden does, it is not enough. Today, that someone is me. It is also thousands of indigenous water protectors and environmental activists who have put their freedom, safety, and lives on the line. We are long overdue for our first indigenous Interior Secretary and I am relatively proud of Biden’s efforts to reach out to indigenous tribes, yet there is more substantial action that his administration needs to take before I can accept that he is fully committed to the cause of racial justice for indigenous peoples. He needs to stop Line 3.
Line 3 is a “proposed pipeline expansion to bring nearly a million barrels of tar sands per day from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin,” first presented in 2014 by the oil company Enbridge. (Tar sands have historically been harvested for, what else, their oil.) The pipeline was supposed to be completed in 2017 but the efforts of indigenous and environmental activists in what we now call Minnesota have continued to push it back. The reasons for the protests are the following: first of all, exporting tar sands is a dying industry. Second of all, there is no proof that Minnesota even needs the oil that Line 3 would bring. And third of all, most importantly, Line 3 would directly violate the treaty rights of the indigenous Anishinaabe peoples of what we now call Minnesota.
There are a few facts to consider when referring to Line 3. Beginning from 1986, at least 200 barrels of oil spill per day from faulty, leaky, poorly constructed and even decently constructed pipelines. This is equivalent to more than three million gallons in under 40 years, affecting lakes, rivers, wildlife and human populations who rely on natural water supplies. The famous Dakota Access Pipeline, which became the case study for the environmentally and culturally destructive nature of oil pipelines as indigenous water protectors were arrested while protecting their land on Thanksgiving Day 2016, leaked five times in the next year (2017) causing unspeakable damage to the tribal communities and natural resources of the areas. Additionally, Indigenous people comprise less than 5% of the global population (thanks to genocide and disease), although they protect 80% of the Earth’s wildlife. Despite their efforts, climate change affects indigenous people more quickly and more harshly than any other population group. Finally, almost every single treaty made by the American government with indigenous peoples since 1776 has been broken. It would be much easier and much quicker to list the treaties that “America” has not broken than the ones we have; indigenous peoples have been shortchanged and cheated over and over since the arrival of Europeans to Turtle Island. Line 3 is just one more drastic and tragic example of the failures of the American government not only to protect indigenous people and cultures but the failure to respect them. In fact, it continues in a long tradition of simply ignoring the needs of indigenous peoples and willfully turning a blind eye to their destruction and desecration.
Line 3 is not the only pipeline in construction. It is not the only climate change issue facing our nation. It is not the only injustice facing indigenous populations across Turtle Island and around the world. But as I spoke just two weeks ago about how actions speak louder than words, Joe Biden has tweeted about how we “cannot wait to tackle climate change,” and how “science will always be at the forefront” of his administration (1) (2) (3) (I could go on); yet his administration has actively refused to block Line 3. This is tragic, and it is maddening. Even if Line 3 didn’t represent a system that puts profits over people (which it does) and even if Line 3 didn’t represent the blatant indifference that oil and fossil fuel companies have towards our environment and home planet (which it does) Line 3 does represent simply another fundamental betrayal of the most basic respect that indigenous people deserve as people, and another ignorant yet malicious destruction of culture, land and life. There is nothing we can simply say to even begin to make up for what we as a nation have done to the indigenous tribes of Turtle Island. If the Biden administration wants to make good on its promises to address climate change and work with tribal nations towards reparations and justice, it can start by stopping Line 3.
For more information on Line 3 and to join the cause to stop it, visit www.stopline3.org.