NHBP Tribal Members join hundreds in serving Enbridge an eviction notice

Indigenous communities across North America are no strangers to land disputes with national bodies of government. Nor are we strangers to unfulfilled promises or treaties abandoned in favor of big business and profit.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Canadian oil and energy company Enbridge has neglected to comply with its recent eviction notice. Fighting big business and making a stand against a massive threat to NHBP Tribal Members core lifeway, water, a caravan journeyed to the Straits of Mackinac in mid-May, in what we believe to be the end of the 63-year easement with Enbridge.

In November 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the State of Michigan found Enbridge to be in violation of the 1953 easement that allowed the energy conglomerate to operate its pipeline in the Mackinac Straits. At the time of that announcement, the company was given until May 12, 2021, to find an alternative way to transport oil that didn’t directly threaten the waters of the Straits.

The eviction notice was delivered by a number of Water Protectors – including several NHBP Tribal Members – right to Enbridge’s front door May 13. Native representatives dressed in Ribbon Shirts, Skirts and Regalia, alongside Indigenous allies, gathered together for a number of ceremonies, Singing, creation of art and signs, sharing of stories, food and drink. The two-day eviction event had a touch of levity and celebration in its spirit.

Following the posting of the eviction notice on the chain link fence lining Enbridge’s Mackinaw City power station, Water Protectors made their way down the dirt path to the small, public beach, Sang a sacred water song and invited attendees to participate in a water ceremony before moving to Conkling Park to listen to speakers and musicians.

NHBP is not new to the fight against oil pipelines – 10 years ago, our backyard was decimated by approximately one million gallons of oil in a substantial break in Enbridge’s Line 6B in the Kalamazoo River. Several Tribal Members also attended protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, traveling over 1,000 miles to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in late 2016 to join Water Protectors in South Dakota.

NHBP Language Associate and Tribal Elder Jenniffer Wethington drove four hours from the Pine Creek Indian Reservation to show her solidarity and support.

The Kalamazoo River spill “was horrible,” Wethington said, as she stood in the sun in Mackinaw City. “We could’ve lost a lot, and it still has an impact. This is huge. This is Lake Michigan. What if we have a spill here? It’s going to be mass destruction.”

“We became the first Potawatomi Tribe in the Great Lakes to suffer an oil spill. A catastrophic oil spill,” said Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Doug Taylor. “It affected all the locals that lived in that area. It disrupted traffic flow, it shut down the river for a good stretch.”

The late July 2010 spill that started just downstream of Enbridge’s pump station in Marshall slithered over 36 miles of the river, resulting in closures of access points and ongoing cleanup for six years, eventually costing Enbridge some $1.2 billion in settlements, legal fees and cleanup fees.

Seeing the devastation of an oil spill first-hand, Tribal Members and Elders made the trek to Mackinaw City, lending their presence and voices in support of Enbridge’s eviction.

“What we’re doing is representing ourselves,” Culture Specialist Kevin Harris II said. He went on to relate the Anishnabé prophecy that tells of the current imbalance and pillage of Earth’s resources and the importance of Indigenous communities in restoring equilibrium.

“It’s important for us to remember our teachings and our prophecies and who we are,” Harris II continued. “Voice our opinions – and voice ourselves. Because without our word being spoken, we cease to be . . . At the drop of a dime, you need to do it for your people.”

Though Enbridge’s Line 5 has yet to spill into the Straits, the pipeline has had leaks in other sections. Initially built in 1953, the line originally had a 50-year life expectancy and is aging out of reliability. Enbridge paid a mere $2,450 in 1953 for the easement and has had absolute access to the Straits since that day. Enbridge’s only proposed solution lies in a tunnel to encase the pipeline, allegedly protecting Michigan’s sacred waters from oil leaks.

But that solution – the effectiveness and safety of which environmentalists, government officials and Water Protectors cannot agree – has been further complicated by the recent discovery of an archaeological site in the Straits, as well as an NHBP Tribal Council resolution to designate the Straits as a Traditional Cultural Property.

“The Straits TCP was – and continues to be – of strategic importance to the Tribes of the Great Lakes due to the abundance of natural, cultural and spiritual resources, as well as significantly supporting trade, transportation and Tribal economies,” Environmental Director John Rodwan said. “With so much of our natural world irretrievably degraded from human activities, it is essential that this pristine and unique portion of Turtle Island is protected to nourish us and all of the intricate web of life dependent upon it.”

At the event, Tribal Elder Claude Ryan said that he didn’t expect Enbridge to listen to the hundreds gathered in peaceful protest.

“But something’s got to be done,” Ryan said, shaking his head. “After the Kalamazoo oil spill… If it happened here, it would be so, so horrible.”

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