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‘Protectors’ not ‘protestors’: Anishinaabe riders travel from Itasca to pipeline

Michael Dahl, Michelle McQuaid and Suze Leon stop south of Bagley to rest their horses Friday as they continued on to Clearbrook, Minn. The riders started at Itasca State Park on Thursday and to bring attention to the need to protect the land from oil pipeline expansion. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

SOUTH OF BAGLEY— Sun broke through a white-grey sky when Michael Dahl began singing during the Anishinaabe spiritual horse ride at the Mississippi Headwaters in Itasca State Park on Thursday morning.

The Anishinaabe riders represent White Earth Land Recovery and Honor the Earth groups, and this ride was to raise awareness of Enbridge Pipeline’s proposed Sandpiper pipeline project and to educate people on what another pipeline might do to Mother Earth, they said.

"The action we’re taking is about educating people," Dahl said.

Enbridge’s new "preferred southern route" pipeline would cross the Mississippi and run close to Itasca State Park and through a portion of the White Earth Reservation, they said.

"This is 1855 treaty territory, the whole pipeline is," Dahl said. "We are the primary, if not the only, stakeholders who should be at the table when asked for an easement."

Honor the Earth said more than 2,000 right-of-way and easement permits are required between Clearbrook to Superior, Wis. The proposed route will be within five miles of Bagley, Park Rapids, McGregor and Pine River.

"I can’t say enough that this is not an Indian issue, it affects everyone," Dahl said.

The proposed 610-mile crude oil pipeline is estimated to cost $2.5 billion, and Enbridge has said construction could begin in late 2014.

Spirit of the ride

Dahl and the Anishinaabe horseriders settled south of Bagley on Thursday night. Friday morning, he and five companions trotted up state Highway 92 through Bagley on to the Enbridge transfer station in Clearbrook, Minn.

Two women, Michelle McQuaid riding atop P.Q. and Suze Leon riding Fancy, accompanied Dahl on the 40-or-so mile journey. Dahl was riding Mr. Chekaakwaam, whose name translates roughly into "walks into wilderness."

"We’re not activists. We’re not protesters. We’re protectors," Dahl said. "We want to renew and revitalize indigenous ways. We’re not protesting Enbridge, our focus is on the Earth."

Dahl chose a horse ride because, he said, the animals are the closest in creation to people in a spiritual, physical and emotional nature.

"When we’re riding, we’re praying," Dahl said.

Dahl saw the sun’s rays on Thursday, and the prime riding weather on Friday, as signs that he is doing the right thing for future generations. His grandson, Bedaase, which means "coming of light" was born as Dahl’s crew embarked on Thursday’s journey.

"Mississippi" is an Ojibwe word that means "goes everywhere." A spill into the river will spread, he said..

"One oil spill into White Earth Lake will ruin the entire lake," Dahl said. "Our Earth and our rice is at stake. If the water is affected the rice will disappear. We will disappear."

This was the third in a series of rides, dubbed the "Triple Crown," and will be the last ride this year. The group will not be riding this winter. Other rides were along Enbridge Line 67 (Alberta Clipper) from Superior to Clearbrook and another ride was in South Dakota that was highlighting the Keystone XL pipeline expansion. Dahl said another horse ride along the Alberta Clipper line is planned for next fall.

"When walking the Clipper line, the horses wouldn’t eat," Dahl said. "The land feels differently physically and spiritually."

For more information on Honor the Earth, call (218) 375-3200 or visit White Earth Land Recovery can be reached by calling (218) 375-2600.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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