Protesters maintain they had a right to be in the pathway of Line 3
The July 2021 charges continue to move forward with the courts determining how to proceed.
WADENA — A group of Line 3 protesters calling themselves the “Shell River 7” joined together once more Wednesday, July 20, almost one year to date from the day they were arrested and held at the Wadena County Jail, charged with trespassing and obstruction of the legal process.
On that day in 2021, a group of six women sat in lawn chairs, chained to one another on a heavy equipment boardwalk between the Shell River and the oncoming Enbridge oil pipeline. They were asked by law enforcement to unchain and leave, according to court records, but said they could not because they did not have a key for the locks. Law enforcement said in a search of the persons, no key was found.
The Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline replacement was under construction starting in Dec. 2020 and became operational in October 2021.
In the present day case before the Wadena County District Court, six of those arrested were facing these charges in a joint omnibus evidentiary hearing. They sought a single contested omnibus hearing, as their cases present substantially similar facts and they are raising similar defenses.
The women include Cheryl Barnds (Maryland), Barbara With (Wisconsin), Kelly Maracle (New York), Trish Weber (Oregon), Mary Klein (California) and Winona Laduke, Ponsford, Minn. Photojournalist K. Flo Rozowsky was also arrested while documenting the event. Laduke, executive director of Honor the Earth, was not a part of this hearing as she is facing a separate trial, for the same incident, to be held in August. She has her own trial because she litgated her right to have her criminal case transferred to Tribal Court as a tribal member. LaDuke will continue to assert her tribal rights including her right to invite guests to join her in the ceremony despite a Wadena County judge’s denial of her motion to transfer the case to White Earth Tribal Court.
She was present Wednesday as witness No. 1 to be questioned by the defense.
She plays a distinguished role as a tribal member of the group that has rights to be on the property as it lies within the ceded territory, Laduke explained. Laduke claims that as a member of the Anishinaabe tribe she has a right and responsibility to invite guests to the territory for ceremonial purposes such as that day, where the group claims they were praying for the river.
Representing the state on the matter, Assistant Wadena County Attorney Adam Licari argued that the women did not have a right to be trespassing on posted private property.
The group are calling themselves water protectors as their goal was to protect the river from the then planned, and now completed, horizontal directional drilling that took place deep under the Shell River for the now active Line 3 oil pipeline. About 10 days prior to their arrest, Laduke said she was named Guardian ad litem of the Shell River by the 1855 Treaty Commission and by the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. She said it is her responsibility to take action steps to protect the river.
In the hearing, Laduke and the defense attorneys maintained that those arrested were lawfully there, standing or seated in the public Huntersville State Forest, all of which is also within the Anishinaabe ceded territory. This is what Laduke asserted in her hearing back in April.
The reasons members of the Northern Lights Task Force arrested the group that day was for trespassing on an Enbridge Line 3 easement, a right of way where the Line 3 pipeline now actively transports oil. The probable cause statement says that signage along the easement indicated there was to be no trespassing on the site. This task force was composed of 16 northern Minnesota counties and state agencies such as the State Patrol, the DNR and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Among those involved were Wadena County Sheriff’s deputies.
Who has rights to be on the property is one side of the issue brought up by the defense. Another was that law enforcement were told to disperse or remove those trespassing that day, apparently listening to requests from Enbridge. But when the protesters told law enforcement that they had a right to be on that property, law enforcement instead listened to the assertion that Enbridge had rights to operate on the easement, the defense reasoned. The defense argued that law enforcement that day showed bias against the water protectors because Enbridge was providing payments to law enforcement, through an escrow account, for dealing with protests along the easement. They argued that law enforcement listened to Enbridge but not the protesters, without having sufficient evidence of whether the protesters were in fact trespassing.
Wadena County Sheriff’s officers brought to the witness stand confirmed that they were “indirectly” paid through the escrow account for their work at the Line 3 site, though it was not known how much money they received.
The defense continued to argue that law enforcement did not know if the protesters were trespassing or not.
“It does not appear any officers reviewed legal paperwork to determine if it was lawful trespass or not,” Attorney Claire Glenn stated.
Wadena County District Court Judge Doug Clark argued against the defense’s questioning in this instance, which was attempting to show bias. He said that either the women had a right to be there or they did not. Either it was an Enbridge easement or it was not. That was the determining factor of trespass.
“Somebody saying they did have a right to be there or not doesn’t change that. It’s not relevant,” Judge Clark said.
Judge Clark will now take the matter under advisement. The defendants indicated they were going to be ordering transcripts of the hearing to assist in their briefing. Following receipt of the transcripts the defendants have three weeks to submit their brief and Licari has a month to respond to their briefs. They then wait until the court issues an order on the matter, according to Licari.
Laduke is up next in this case with a trial set to start August 12 at the Wadena County Courthouse.