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LaDuke, charged with trespassing, claims she never entered private property

LaDuke faces charges of trespassing and refusal to leave the site of the Line 3 pipeline construction along with six others.

Winona Courthouse 2.jpg
A group of "water protectors" stand against the charges brought against members of their group in a protest Monday, April 4, outside the Wadena County Courthouse.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal
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WADENA – Line 3 pipeline protest leader Winona LaDuke appeared at an omnibus hearing Monday, April 4, at the Wadena County Courthouse, concerning charges stemming from her arrest in summer 2021, at the Shell River, near Menahga.

On July 19, 2021, LaDuke was arrested with six others, and charged with gross misdemeanor trespass on critical public service facilities, pipeline, utility posted; gross misdemeanor trespass on critical public service facilities, pipeline, refusal to leave upon demand; and misdemeanor obstruction of legal process, interfering with a police officer. The group of women were seated in lawn chairs and secured to each other with log chains and various locks on a boardwalk between the Shell River and a horizontal drill setup. They are known as the “Shell River Seven.”

Prior to the start of the hearing on Monday, a group of about a dozen gathered out front of the Wadena County Courthouse with signs asking to have all charges dropped against “water protectors,” those who have been protesting against the Line 3 pipeline in support of clean water. According to Martin Keller in an Honor the Earth news release, over 1,000 “water protectors” have been arrested for protesting the Line 3 pipeline.

The leader of Honor the Earth was arrested Monday for trespass and refusing to leave upon demand. A group of women is protesting the construction of the oil pipeline across Minnesota.

The group of protesters entered the courthouse before 9 a.m. where they were greeted with coffee and muffins in the lobby area by other members of the water protector group, an unusual sight, for sure.

The nearly two-hour hearing was largely an opportunity for the defense, led by tribal attorney Frank Bibeau, to attempt to exonerate LaDuke by explaining that by her understanding of treaty rights she was not trespassing on private property, rather she was seated on Anishinaabe land and had the right to be there, according to statements from LaDuke and other witnesses in the contested omnibus hearing.

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But according to the criminal complaint against LaDuke, she was protesting on land owned by Enbridge. Land that had “No Trespassing” signs adorning both sides of the right of way and property the group had not been given permission to access. She and the six others refused to leave when given dispersal orders, according to the criminal complaint. Representing the state, Assistant Wadena County Attorney Adam Licari shared with Judge Michelle Lawson multiple disks containing officer body camera footage, videos and photos from the day of the arrest. These were entered as evidence, but not shown in court Monday.

LaDuke says she never entered private property. When she took the witness stand she shared how she spent five months in the Shell City Campground, a public campground, watching over the river as she said she was appointed guardian ad litem for the Shell River by the 1855 Treaty Commission and by the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. She said she was seated near the Shell River on Anishinaabe land when she was arrested doing nothing more than standing up for the river.

“I’m an Anishinaabe person and this is our territory, we’ve lived here a long time, before Wadena County,” LaDuke said outside the courthouse. “I don’t believe that the laws of Wadena County and the rights of a Canadian multinational should supersede the rights of the Anishinaabe people and water, because water is more important than corporate profits.”

To express the difference of understanding, Bibeau brought forward a teacher of Ojibwe culture and treaty rights, Dale Greene; White Earth’s Chief Conservation Officer Alfred Fox; and LaDuke to testify at the witness stand. Bibeau said he wanted to make sure there was an understanding of treaty rights as he believed there was some confusion.

Honor the Earth Executive Director Winona LaDuke and six other women were arrested July 19 during a protest in front of the pending Enbridge Line 3 replacement near the Shell River in Wadena County.

On the stand, LaDuke spoke about environmental justice including speaking to her work to preserve wild rice and freshwater mussels, which she said can be found within the Shell River and Shell Lake, where the river begins.

After both sides had an opportunity to question the witnesses, Lawson ended the hearing and attorneys for both sides asked for time to file motions in the case. Lawson set May 16 as the deadline for briefs to be filed.

LaDuke spent three days in the Wadena County Jail last summer following her arrest. If found guilty, the gross misdemeanor charges against her call for a maximum 365 days in jail and/or $3,000 fine.

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in the city of Verndale, Minn., but is bent on making it as country as he can until he returns once more to the farm living he enjoys. Also living the dream are his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at mjohnson@agweek.com or 218-640-2312.
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