DETROIT LAKES-Honor the Earth, an environmental organization and one of the lead opponents to the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project, is facing allegations that it overlooked sexual harassment among its ranks.
A former Honor the Earth employee, Margaret "Molly" Campbell, filed a lawsuit against the organization in February in Becker County.
Honor the Earth filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that Becker County doesn't have jurisdiction of the White Earth Nation, where Honor the Earth is located. A judge reviewed the case during a hearing Wednesday, May 8, and took the issue under advisement.
Campbell's attorney, Christy Hall, said although it's unfortunate the situation had to result in a lawsuit, Campbell wanted Honor the Earth to change its practices that "could have resulted in concrete harm."
"We do feel that Winona LaDuke does great work-her organization does great work-and it is in no way our intention to harm her personally or harm the organization in that way. We just believe there should be accountability here," Hall said. LaDuke is the executive director of Honor the Earth.
Honor the Earth’s attorney, Frank Bibeau, released a statement, reiterating that while the organization is working to improve its policies, the matter belongs in White Earth tribal court.
“Honor the Earth believes in free speech and people standing up for their rights,” the statement said. “As an Indigenous organization led largely by women, Honor the Earth continues to improve internal protocols and policies for employee development and well-being.”
According to the lawsuit, Campbell worked for Honor the Earth for more than six years. During 2014 and 2015, she was allegedly sexually harassed by another employee. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges the same employee who harassed Campbell also committed "sexual violence against Native boys."
Campbell originally filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in January 2016. The human rights department claimed it could not investigate the accusations of sexual harassment since it was more than a year between when the alleged incidents occured and when Campbell filed the complaint.
The complaint Campbell filed with the department included several other accusations, one of which was that Honor the Earth's leadership "retaliated" against her for complaining about the sexual harassment. However, the department of human rights dismissed the charges against Honor the Earth.
Despite the department's dismissal of the complaint, it clarified that Campbell could file a private civil action against Honor the Earth.
The lawsuit claims the employee accused of sexual harassment made multiple inappropriate references on different occasions. During one instance, both Campbell and the employee attended a retreat in Canada. The employee reportedly used an obscene word during a breakout session with other colleagues nearby to ask who Campbell had slept with recently.
In addition to the sexual harassment against Campbell, the lawsuit makes multiple references to inappropriate behavior with adolescent youth. The lawsuit says the employee's "inappropriate sexual behavior towards boys became an open secret in the White Earth Community."
Campbell reportedly began to address the sexual harassment issue with LaDuke, Honor the Earth's executive director. The organization's leadership, however, allegedly overlooked those reports, according the lawsuit.
"Neither LaDuke nor the Honor the Earth Board took any action at any time to stop the sexually harassing comments," the lawsuit says.
In addition to speaking to Honor the Earth's leadership about the incidents, Campbell reached out to another environmental activist outside the organization. A board member later reprimanded Campbell for doing so, the lawsuit says.
Campbell was placed on administrative leave from Honor the Earth in February 2015. She resigned from the organization just a couple days later.
After she left Honor the Earth, Campbell and nearly 40 other community members signed an open letter to LaDuke and Honor the Earth.
"They wanted to encourage Honor the Earth to take action and create victim-centered policies for dealing with future complaints," the lawsuit says.
According to its report, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights dismissed Campbell's claim of reprisal since she supposedly took a "workplace issue into the community" before Honor the Earth could respond to it.
The human rights department's report said Honor the Earth established a no-tolerance sexual harassment policy in March 2015, after Campbell left the organization. It also said the employee accused of sexual harassment no longer works for the organization.
"We acknowledge that the response to an employee's complaint of sexual harassment was not handled properly, that there should have been a policy in place, and we have since made every swift yet thorough effort to (ensure) that this will not happen again," the human rights department report quoted Honor the Earth as saying.