CROOKSTON, MINN. — On a map in the crowded conference room of a hotel, Winona LaDuke pointed to a tiny tract of land in the northeast corner of the White Earth Indian Reservation. The area, home to the wild rice that feeds the tribe and helps to pay its bills through deals with retailers like Whole Foods, is miniscule in comparison to the counties that surround it, but it’s worth millions to an oil company and the state.
LaDuke’s beloved land—an area of about four square miles—makes up 10 percent of the reservation. The territory is at the center of a dispute between the White Earth tribe and Enbridge, the Canadian company that wants to construct an oil pipeline across the state of Minnesota. Called the Sandpiper, the pipeline will carry crude oil from North Dakota to the port of Superior, Wisconsin. LaDuke said Enbridge will make this jaunt by cutting across the northeast corner of her reservation.
“I’m here today to pretend the system works,” LaDuke announced to a panel in Crookston, that included a state judge, representatives from Enbridge and members of the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC). “I want to pretend there aren’t hundreds of pipes sitting in the area, ready to be put into the ground for a pipeline that hasn’t been approved.”