This interview was conducted by Aletta Brady on 21 June, 2019. Gari De Ramos, Talia Fox, and Fatima Hashmi also contributed to the production of this story.
Gaagigeyaashiik (Dawn Goodwin) is an advocate for Nimaamaa-Aki (Mother Earth), a protector of manoomin (wild rice) and water from Lower Rice Lake on the White Earth Reservation. This is her story:
“Boozhoo, Gaagigeyaashiik nindizhnikaaz. Gaawaabaabiganikaag nindoonjibaa. Ma’iingan nindoodem. Hello, my name is Everlasting Wind. I am from White Earth. I am a member of the Ma’iingan (Wolf) Clan. My English name is Dawn Goodwin.
When I was a child, I grew up going berry-picking with my mother and my grandmother, aunts, cousins, sisters, and brothers. I’ve been visiting the berry patch since I’ve been in my mother’s womb. It’s one of my favorite cultural seasonal activities. I could go buy a bag of berries from the store, but it’s not the same as picking them yourself. Berry-picking fulfills the balance of spiritual and mental well being. It’s a form of meditation.
We have a favorite story from those berry-picking days. My mother and aunties would say ‘If we see a bear, don’t run!’ One day, my aunt thought she heard a bear, and she took off running. She ran by her kids and was way ahead of us all. She was screaming ‘Bear! Bear!’ She did everything she wasn’t supposed to do. She said, ‘Oh my gosh, I left my kids behind!’ But in the end there was no bear and we were all safe.
The first time I observed climate change was in the berry patch. We had a late frost, so I had concerns. People told me not to worry and that it’s all natural—after all, fluctuation is natural—but the abnormal temperatures are becoming the norm. We don’t know how it’ll affect our growing season and animals. I don’t remember a year where we didn’t have berries. But last year and the year before, we didn’t have many. The high waters in 2017 changed the way the wild rice was forming too. This particular year we had a late spring and planting season.
As a Native person, I see how climate change has caused our ecosystem to become out of balance, which destabilized our wild foods and medicines. Our ancestors understood the importance of our natural environment and have passed those teachings on down through the generations. Our foods are gifts from the creator. It’s important for our people to be able to go out themselves and gather these cultural foods, not only for sustenance, but also for spiritual, emotional, and mental well being.
“Tar sands are a mixture of mostly sand, clay, water, and a thick, molasses-like substance called bitumen. Bitumen is made of hydrocarbons—the same molecules in liquid oil—and is used to produce gasoline and other petroleum products. A gallon of gasoline made from tar sands produces about 15% more carbon dioxide emissions than one made from conventional oil (Union of Concerned Scientists).
Enbridge has a history of oil spills around the country. Since 2002, Enbridge has been reported to federal regulators for hazardous liquid incidents 307 times. These incidents released 66,059 barrels of oil (Greenpeace).
The proposed Line 3 Oil Pipeline would be a 36-inch diameter pipeline that would transport 760,000 barrels of oil a day across Ma’iingan land, creating only 20 new jobs (MPR News).
Wild plants can be destroyed by fluctuations in the water, rainfall, temperature, hail, and winds. The extreme weather is a big danger for the wild rice crop and we have had a late frost, which affected the berries because of extreme cold temperatures freezing the blossoms, meaning berries weren’t able to form. We’ll have extreme heat one day, extreme rain the other. All of this affects our plants and wildlife.
I began learning more about climate change in 2010 when I was introduced to the subject of tar sands. In 2013—as I learned about the continued use of fossil fuels exacerbating climate change and the controversial practice of fracking in North Dakota—Enbridge, a Canadian oil shipping company, proposed the Sandpiper project. The Sandpiper would have carried fracked oil from North Dakota and gone through the 1855 Treaty area, next to our berry patches, under the rivers, and next to Upper Rice Lake in Clearwater County.
When my auntie, cousin, and I were out picking berries, we discussed the Sandpiper proposal and decided we had to protect our lands and waters for our future generations. We started a little group called Mawinzo Asiginigaazo (Berry Pickers Gather Up). Our vision was to encourage others to carry on our traditional ways of hunting, fishing, and gathering and to help in the protection of the lands and waters for future generations. We put on feasts, supported other organizations that were opposed to the Sandpiper pipeline proposal, attended public utilities commission hearings, and gave testimony. Friends of the Headwaters filed a lawsuit to appeal the commission’s decision and won a full environmental impact study on the pipeline. Enbridge did not want to do the study, so they dropped the project and then invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline. But, the Sandpiper was defeated!
Now, Enbridge wants to make a new pipeline corridor for Line 3 along the same route chosen for the Sandpiper, next to the MinnCan pipeline owned by the Koch Brothers, which already cuts through the federal boundary of our reservation and 1855 Treaty lands. They advertise the Line 3 project as a replacement line. It currently runs through Bemidji and the Leech Lake Reservations. What Enbridge fails to say is that it’s not only a replacement, but also a relocation. Enbridge will not stop sending oil through the current ‘weeping’ Line 3, which is under restrictions, until they get the permits needed for a new Line 3 in the new preferred route.
If this line is approved, it would go directly through our 1855 Treaty area. The 1855 Treaty was a legally binding document signed between the U.S. Government and Chippewa (also known as Anishinaabe/Ojibwe). By signing this treaty, my ancestors gave the settlers the right to settle on the lands, and the Anishinaabeg agreed to live in peace among one another. But, we retained our inherent rights to hunt, fish, and gather on these ceded lands, and the government promised education and medical care indefinitely. This agreement also included the promise of government payment for the use of the lands. However, there has been a discrepancy about payment, a lot of which has not been paid. There has been a history of trickery and collusion among agencies and settlers in the pursuit of land and timber.
Now, these essential lands and waters are being put at additional risk by a foreign corporation wanting to run a new pipeline corridor that would carry carcinogenic oil that sinks in water. The availability of a clean, healthy environment is vital for the Anishinaabeg to survive as the people the creator intended them to be. Failing to sustain a clean environment for the Anishinaabeg would be genocide.
The health of treaty lands is especially important, since we now only actually own about 12% of our reservation lands on White Earth. And, most of lands in the reservation boundary in the West and South have been contaminated from chemical spraying, which has resulted in poor water, land, and air quality. We have to make a choice to take the green path or continue on the destructive path that is sending our climate into imbalance. The time is now! Which path will you take?
To complicate matters, the federal boundary of White Earth reservation on the northeast corner consists of four disputed townships, which means they are of legal uncertainty. This is important to the Line 3 court proceeding and state regulatory agencies’ legal tactics. These agencies don’t follow the federal laws in this matter—they only follow the state statutes, which recognize the reservations, but disregard our treaties and treaty areas where we also have rights. So, Enbridge can say they are following guidelines and respecting the tribes. On the Enbridge preferred route maps, it doesn’t look like the pipeline is going through the White Earth reservations, but the line goes through the corner of the federal boundary, which is also 1855 Treaty land.
According to our tribal law experts, we have the right to use open 1855 lands unoccupied by people. Historically, we have chosen to only use the state-managed lands because that’s where we can go without upsetting people or getting charged with trespassing.
“The proposed Line 3 corridor would violate the treaty rights of the Anishinaabeg by endangering primary areas of hunting, fishing, wild rice, and cultural resources in the 1855 treaty territory. The US Supreme Court has upheld the rights of native peoples to hunt, fish, and subsist off the land” (Honor the Earth).
The U.S. government and Minnesota have a legacy of violating treaties. For instance, in the 1837 Treaty, the Anshinaabe thought they had retained rights to the forest itself. Instead, settlers took advantage of their positions of power and profited from timber sales (Sierra Club).
But the fact that our treaties are not being upheld is actually a breach of international law. And our people are done being oppressed. We want to be heard. We’re no longer just going be passive and sit back. We’re going to be in the courtrooms, we’re going to be in the streets, we’re going to be in the churches trying to educate people. We’re going to be at the state capitol, and we’ll do all that we can to keep the peace.
As Anishinaabeg, we have had to become more vocal and active, which is sometimes difficult when you are passive or shy, especially when you’re in a rural community with limited education and support on these issues. To complicate our efforts to protect the lands, we have long-standing racial issues. The town of Bagley is right on the border of our reservation, so we see, hear, and feel a lot of racial tension. Our people feel like second class citizens sometimes. We can go in somewhere and we’re looked at, stared at, followed, and sometimes looked down upon just for being Native. Sometimes it’s difficult for individuals to even go out in the community because they feel the tension. When I was a young adult, one of my friends said something negative about ‘Indians,’ and I said, ‘I’m Native.’ But they proceeded to say, ‘Well, we don’t mean you. You’re one of the good ones.’ There is a negative stigma around our people because there has been a history of alcohol use, high crime rates, and poverty as a result of historical trauma.
The Line 3 proposal has only been exacerbating these racial tensions. You see yards with ‘Minnesotans for Line 3’ signs and people wearing t-shirts. For me, it’s hard not to take it personal. This is our treaty territory, but they don’t care that we want our land and water to be healthy for our next generations. Around here it’s perceived as a battle between the Native people versus the pipeline industry. We get painted as bad people and called eco-terrorists just because we want to protect water, manoomin (wild rice), and the lands. The situation is emotionally draining on my people.
My friends who live in Fond du Lac have six pipelines, and it has really affected their emotional well being. They have seen their lands overtaken by pipelines. My friend’s husband has stage four cancer and she feels torn between working to stop Line 3 and spending family time with her husband.
It has also affected me. My husband has epilepsy, and we’ve had a lot of helicopter rides and ER visits. I have to balance my work and taking care of him. Life has been pretty rough. Having to be gone and having my attention divided is difficult, but thankfully my husband understands. It has taken time away from visiting my mom and helping her at home. Essentially, my family and community have sacrificed time together because of the additional work I put in doing what I can to stop Enbridge from getting the new oil pipeline corridor they want. I’m doing whatever I can to teach about the importance of our natural environment. I study every day and make sure to put time in to learn and keep updated about tar sands and the pipeline industry.
When the Line 3 court proceedings came, the lawyer asked our biologist, ‘Who should we have as an expert witness?’ And they recommended me. I’ve been doing a lot of interviews and speaking engagements but I don’t consider myself an expert. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. I’m not one that wants to be interviewed, but I’m doing what I need to do for my people, lands, plants, water, and animals. It’s not easy, but when you’re faced with people who are making the worst decisions that they could make, you have to push back. We’re not willing to put our lands at risk. There’s not much left of the natural world, and we’re trying to protect what we have left.
There have been sacrifices, but I would do it over and over again because I am accountable to protect our wild rice and our water. Hope is what helps me continue the work I do. What gives me hope is my teachings, the fact that my ancestors would want me to be doing this, and that our elders support us and are guiding us along. I’m proud of our people because we have been able to find our voice, stand, and speak, and we continue to do so. Another thing that gives me hope is all of the people that understand how important a healthy environment is and want to do something about climate change and the people who know we are in a battle against corporate entities that are profiting at the expense of our environment. I find my hope in their voices and endless work.
For those who want to support the fight against Line 3 or do work in their own communities, I would share with you one of our main teachings: be humble and do the work from your heart. Do your work out of love and for the right things. Do not worry about being in the headlines, or having a viral video, just keep moving forward. If you plan something and only a few people show up, don’t worry about that. Educate those who are there and go ahead with your event. Do not be discouraged if you travel or stand alone. In the beginning, I was always traveling alone, sometimes the only one showing up, and getting discouraged, but I continued. Now I have met many like-minded, beautiful people.
The most important thing to understand is that this is life or death for our culture. We can’t risk the health of the land and water for the profit of a foreign corporation. The Anishinaabeg are desperately trying to hang on to what little land base we have left.”
Ready to take action? Here’s what you can do:
Stay connected with Dawn’s work with Rise Coalition here!
Learn more about Treaties.
Learn about the proposed Line 3 Replacement Line here.
Teach others about Anishinaabe History, Treaties, and the Line 3 Replacement Project.