LaDuke: Letter from the Wadena County Jail

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.

Winona LaDuke
Winona LaDuke
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So, what is the crime of ecocide, and what is the punishment? That may be the question here.

I sit in the Wadena County Jail for the sole reason that I believe that the Shell River, like the other rivers of northern Minnesota, and like our Akiing itself, should be protected, not exploited to sickness and death.

Like 600 other Water Protectors arrested thus far, we believe that a Canadian multinational oil pipeline company should not own the waters of life. And, that this same Canadian corporation should not own the police and therefore get this pipeline in, literally shoving it down the throats of Anishinaabe people.

We have tried every legal recourse, to no avail. It is really time that the Indian Wars come to an end.

It’s also time to quit fighting with Mother Nature, no one wins that war.


In his August 1963 "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King Jr. explained the challenges of one who has a moral teaching about what is right, and the consequences. King was in jail, with many others for the brutality of Birmingham in the 1960s, and from his cell, like mine, shared this, “One may well ask, 'How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?' The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'An unjust law is no law at all.'

"Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.”

Now I am not a Christian, I am a member of our Midewiwin Society, and our traditional Anishinaabe teachings, but the story is the same. The forests are on fire, and we are amidst the worst drought in our modern memory. A billion mussels and clams baked to death in an overheated Salish Sea, and the heat is unbearable in many parts of the world. I can’t see the Enbridge trucks and workers through the haze of a Canadian forest fire.

It’s clear that the laws are unjust, and crimes are underway against life itself. Take the example of the Park Rapids City Council, which restricted water use by households in town, and at the same time, sold water to the Enbridge Corporation, so that it could drill under the 69 rivers or so in the northland.

Enbridge sucks water from the rivers, from Sloan Lake, and elsewhere, and I watch water truck after water truck move our sacred water, all for a price and with no apparent regulation.

The Department of Natural Resources appears so corrupt that it makes me embarrassed for the state of Minnesota. The DNR allocated the 5 billion gallon permit to Enbridge in this deep drought, 10 times more than the original request. There was no environmental review. Enbridge received 5 billion gallons of water for $150. The DNR informed the tribal governments in May 14 for a decision which would be three weeks later. No one was allowed to review the DNR decision. And, in the worst drought we have seen, almost 3 billion of those gallons comes from the Crow Wing and the Shell rivers.

Those rivers are getting sucked dry by Enbridge and by RDO Offutt. There are 62 irrigators on this river. That’s tragic, and little guys like mussels have no place to go.

I’ve seen the DNR protect Enbridge hoses sucking water out of rivers, and arrest Minnesota citizens who say no. I have seen Ojibwe people shot with rubber bullets and tear gas and cannot understand why that is acceptable. All these violations occur so a Canadian corporation can make a buck at the end of the tar sands party and pump that oil back to Canada to sell it overseas.


Let me ask who is the criminal here? I’d like to see the ecological Nuremberg Trials. And Enbridge and the Department of Natural Resources, Gov. Tim Walz, and a bunch of other guys who decided to pull some triggers in the war against Indian people and Mother Earth should be indicted.

Thanks to Enbridge, and Gov. Walz, I spent three nights in jail for the crime of protecting the Shell River. In Wadena County, they made sure to remind you that you weren’t supposed to be comfortable, because it was a jail. A lot of Anishinaabeg have been put in jail for ricing, hunting and fishing, all crimes associated with being a Native person.

In my mind, I could hear those Anishinaabeg singing. Along with my six others in the "Shell River Seven," I felt in good company, and the continuing sorrow of a broken system. We work for a future with fewer jails, laws for people and Mother Earth, and more hope.

Winona LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation. She is also owner of Winona's Hemp and a regular contributor to Forum News Service.

Related Topics: WADENA COUNTY
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