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Alberta Clipper Pipeline: Protesters state their case

"Take your $10 million & clean up your mess." "You suckered us enough En-bridge."

Protesters set up these and about a dozen other signs along Bemidji Avenue Wednesday afternoon. Their goal is to stop Enbridge Energy from completing the Alberta Clipper pipeline to carry diluent, a petroleum product, from Alberta, Canada, through this area to Superior, Wis. As of 3 p.m., about 40 people had gathered at the waterfront.

Denise Hamsher, director of public, government and regulatory affairs for Enbridge, said the company's goal is to make petroleum products available in the United States from a friendly neighboring country and lessen U.S. dependency on oil from the Mideast and other distant countries.

A full Environmental Im-pact Statement has been prepared for the project, involving the U.S. State Department as the line crosses an international border, and permits have been secured or are in the process of being secured.

Hamsher said more than 30 public meetings have been held along the pipeline route to inform residents of plans. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission granted Enbridge a certificate for the project on Dec. 29.

Specifically, the protesters Wednesday focused on the section of pipeline approved to run through the Leech Lake Reservation.

Four Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe members have filed a civil action in Leech Lake Tribal Court to stop the construction. In addition, about 700 people have submitted a petition to the Leech Lake Reservation Business Committee, also known as the Tribal Council, to hold a referendum on whether the Tribal Council agreement with Enbridge should stand. The agreement is a payment by Enbridge to Leech Lake of $10 million for the pipeline easement on reservation land.

Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network, the organization that sponsored Wednesday's protest, said the concerns also relate to the Alberta Tar Sands oil products that will flow along the new pipeline. He said he believes that if the Tribal Court finds in favor of the plaintiffs, Enbridge would have to go around Leech Lake land. In that case, he said, he thinks Enbridge would cancel the project.

"That's our plan, to get the people out to say, 'No,'" he said.

Lennie Butcher opened the gathering with a pipe ceremony and his own protest against the pipeline.

"We are pumping out the sacred oil of Mother Earth, the blood of Mother Earth," he said. "It hurts me to see this destruction."

Sandy Nichols, one of the plaintiffs in the Tribal Court suit and a petition signer, was among many speakers who said she believes the pipeline will cause damage to the land and water. She also expressed doubts about the safety of earlier pipelines.

"With all this progress, they're going to kill the earth, and it's not very far away," she said.

Nichols advocated going back to the traditional energy sources of earth, air, fire and water.

Keith Lussier of Red Lake, chairman of the Northern Eagle American Indian Movement, agreed saying AIM supports the indigenous people and denounces the pipeline.

"They're going to cut down more of our trees, rip up more of Mother Earth," he said.

"We're oil-dependent," Cobenais said. "We all drove here. We're all using oil - we can't deny that. We need to get our dependency off this."

Dennis Banks, AIM founder and Leech Lake Band member, said the proposed pipeline construction is already in the works. He agreed that potential pipeline leaks are of concern, but said the principle of sovereignty as another reason the project should be stopped. Not only will the pipeline violate the sovereignty of the Leech Lake Band, but also of the Canadian indigenous people.

In addition, he said, the United States as a whole is giving up its sovereignty in allowing Canadian Tar Sands oil to flow into the country.

He cited American Indians' spiritual and ancestral ties to the earth. He also said he differentiates between what is right and what is legal or illegal. If the Tribal Court doesn't find in favor of the plaintiffs, he said, "There is such a thing as civil disobedience."

Banks is known for his AIM activism and protests during the 1970s.

Cobenais said the Leech Lake members are not alone in trying to block the pipeline project. He said about 12 private landowners are also standing against Enbridge.

A Beltrami County landowner is currently involved in a civil suit in which Enbridge sued for the power of eminent domain. The eminent domain right would fulfill the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission routing permit for an easement over and under the William Schroeder property. The easement would involve a little less than 3 acres of the Schroeder land.

According to the complaint, Enbridge served the Schroeders with notice of intent to acquire the easement and provided them with market value appraisals Feb. 5

Hamsher said 1,400 landowners have negotiated easements with Enbridge over the 1,000 miles of pipeline route from northern Canada to Superior; 285 miles of are in Minnesota.