Do treaties matter? Honor the Earth vs. Sandpiper crude oil pipeline

A Native American group says the Sandpiper crude oil pipeline will endanger land protected by treaties. Will the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and, ultimately, state and federal courts consider the treaty claims?

Here’s the rationale, in brief: the 1855 treaty took title to the land, but left with the Anishinabe/Chippewa/Ojibwe people the right “to use the land for subsistence, usufructuary property rights.” These rights include hunting, fishing, and gathering. These rights recently have been asserted by people from the White Earth reservation in regard to fishing rights. The Honor the Earth website sums up their contention:

“As Ojibwe people, our 1855 treaty protects our  right to harvest, hunt, and fish within our treaty territory. New pipelines proposals from Enbridge put our relationship to our land, its health, and our communities at risk — infringing on those treaty rights.”

In relation to the Sandpiper pipeline proposal, Honor the Earth maintains that they have the right and duty to protect the environment and, in particular, the wild rice stands.

The Sandpiper crude oil pipeline will carry oil from the Bakken fields across Minnesota. Lots of people oppose the pipeline, but some say that it is needed because rail transport of Bakken crude is so dangerous.

I’ve written before about the dangers of rail transport. Pipeline transport has its own problems, including leaks and groundwater contamination.

The Honor the Earth website includes links to more information, and the now-viral video showing a North Dakota man setting his tap water on fire. Sounds too strange to be true, but the highly respected Pro Publica investigative journalism organization confirms water contamination as a result of fracking, “with a pattern of drinking water contamination so severe that some faucets can be lit on fire.”

Fracking, rail transport, pipelines: they are all problematic. Honor the Earth’s briefing on pipelines and Bakken crude says:

“’It’s like the choice of driving the car with bad brakes, or driving the car with bad steering.’ Let’s just not drive the car.

‘That’s the choice we’re being asked to make when we choose between moving oil from the Bakken oil field by train or by pipeline. Our options are not good. We might need to ask a few questions. Like, what happens to my property values with an oil pipeline, how much oil is coming this way, if we agree to this pipeline, will the oil industry try and create a second industrial corridor of pipelines through the Park Rapids, Crow Wing, area? We might need to say no to this pipeline. NO IS AN OPTION, AND IT IS OUR RIGHT.”

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