First Nations in Michigan, Ontario want Line 5 gone

Many protestors have rallied against Enbridge’s Line 3 and Line 5 in the name of Indigenous rights. Shutterstock

MICHIGAN – All of the Michigan tribes recognized by the US government have sent a letter to US President Joe Biden urging him to strongly support Michigan’s efforts to shut down the controversial Enbridge Line 5 pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac.

“The governor, the attorney general and our tribal nations need your administration’s help,” the letter reads in part, going on to remind the president that he campaigned on a promise to, “heed our concerns and act to protect our fundamental interests.”

The tribes’ letter goes on to point out that, “We view Line 5 as an existential threat to our treaty-protected rights, resources and fundamental way of life as Anishinaabe people of the Great Lakes.”

The 12 tribes, members of the Three Fires Confederacy, include the Bay Mills Indian Community, Grand Traverse Bay of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Hannahville Indian Community, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (also known as the Gun Lake Tribe), Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Line 5 is also opposed by Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territories and the Anishinabek Nation.

Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier told The Expositor that, while Wiikwemkoong has not sent a letter as such, he moved a resolution at the Anishinabek Nation last week “to continue to support the US tribes on their opposition to Line 5 and for the Chiefs in Assembly at the Chiefs of Ontario to advocate at the Assembly of First Nations and to seek a seat at the table with Canada and the US.”

A release notes that the letter was also sent to a list of top state and federal officials, including: US Attorney General Merrick Garland and his assistant attorneys general; US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland; US Secretary of State Tony Blinken; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan; Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel; Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; US Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.); US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg among others.

The court battles over the fate of Line 5 are currently in abeyance awaiting the outcome of an Enbridge challenge over jurisdiction, with the company asserting the proper venue for the case is in federal court, with Michigan maintaining that its courts have jurisdiction.

In October, Canada formally invoked the 1977 pipelines treaty between the US and Canada signed to prevent either country’s interference in cross-border pipelines.

The US tribes, for their part, maintain that earlier treaties have precedence, citing the 1836 Washington Treaty which ceded Ojibwe and Odawa lands in Michigan but retained fishing, hunting and gathering rights on the treaty territory.

The letter gently chides the American president for not taking action on this file, contrasting it with Canada’s vigorous defence of the pipeline’s continued operation. The pipeline supplies much of the propane used in the region and the oil transported from Western Canada feeds into refineries in Sarnia and Quebec.

Enbridge and Michigan were ordered into mediation while the federal court determines the jurisdiction question, but Michigan has since walked away from the process. Enbridge has signaled its willingness to attempt to find a compromise solution.

The tribes’ letter makes three requests of the federal government. The first is for the president to file an official statement of interest via the US Department of Justice affirming the validity of Whitmer’s May 12 shutdown order, which Enbridge has refused to comply with until Michigan obtains a court order. The tribes also ask that his statement of interest urge a speedy judicial resolution of challenges to the shutdown order.

The tribes are also asking President Biden to seriously consider revocation of the 1991 presidential permit that allows the pipeline to operate, citing Enbridge’s repeated safety violations over the years and their attempts to thwart Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s shutdown order.

Finally, the tribal nations are seeking a seat at the negotiating table with Canada regarding the pipeline through a single designated representative.

“We possess rights and interests in the integrity of the Great Lakes that date back to time immemorial and that are protected by solemn treaties with the United States, long predating the agreement Canada rests on,” asserts the letter.

Coalitions of Line 5 opponents have voiced support for the tribes’ letter, while Line 5 spokespersons and supporters point to the major economic impact and the potential shortages which they say will occur in the five states and two major Canadian provinces that an immediate shutdown would engender.

So far, the Biden administration has been largely silent on the issue.