Messages From the Treaty People Gathering: Corvallis Stands with First Nations
The Treaty People Gathering, which turned into Minnesota’s largest mobilization against Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline to date, has passed and stirred anticipation for a summer of resistance. Local residents who traveled to the gathering have returned from an unforgettable weekend full of marching, praying, singing, and dragonflies.
Weber went as a member of the Board of Directors for Honor the Earth, an Indigenous-led environmental organization. She has worked with executive director and Anishinaabeg activist Winona LaDuke on a variety of tar sands campaigns over the years, and has been involved in fighting Line 3 for as long as it’s been on the table.
Kos and Weymouth, who both attend Corvallis’ First Congregational United Church of Christ, went as part of the multifaith delegation, a group of people from all over the country of various faith traditions and spiritual practices organized by Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light.
“We were invited to participate by the leaders and the elders of the Tribe to support them and use our influence,” said Weymouth. “They’ve exhausted all possibilities that they have through state and federal courts to oppose this and secure their rights, so they requested support from the faith communities to speak for the morality of what’s going on.”
According to Kos, the multifaith group consisted of around 300 people, some of whom had planned to get involved in direct action enough though they would risk arrest.
“One thing that is noteworthy about the Stop Line 3 campaign is the way that faith communities have stepped in,” said Weber. “They carry a lot of moral credibility — Indigenous people should carry that credibility with law enforcement, [but] unfortunately [with] the colonialist and racist systemic structures that we have in place, that is not the case. White church people, though — especially grey-haired white church people — carry a different level of status and some protections that are afforded with that. So it’s been really great that the faith communities are getting into this and showing up and putting their bodies between the machines and the Indigenous people that live on the frontlines.”
Day of Action
On the morning of June 7, Kos and Weymouth gathered at an interfaith prayer ceremony near LaSalle Lake, where Anishinaabe elders and representatives of each faith group of the multifaith delegation offered messages of support and blessing for a planned march to the Mississippi headwaters.
“Our action at the site was part of a march up to the proposed river crossing, and we were mostly those who were not going to participate in the direct action and subject ourselves to [police] harassment, but we wanted to be there to support those who did,” said Weymouth.
“I felt privileged and fascinated to hear the Anishinaabe and Indigenous people from other tribal affiliations welcoming us to their territory, thanking us, singing and praying in their own languages,” said Kos. “One of the grandmothers even taught us a little Ojibwe song, ‘The Nibi Song,’ about love and respect for water. It plays in my head now a lot, but I don’t share it publicly because that would be cultural appropriation.”
She and Weymouth had strung up the photos of Corvallis residents in a makeshift banner, which they carried along the highway as they marched.
“Karen was holding it on one side on the other end, and we had another person from New York hold the middle of it up,” said Weymouth. “We were toward the end of the march, so we kind of stretched it across the roadway, walked for about a mile up to where we were stopped by the [Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office].”
“The intended effect of the photos was to magnify the presence of Oregonians who supported the action and were willing to put their faces ‘on the line’ in solidarity,” said Kos. “Those people traveled 3,200 miles with us in spirit to support the water protectors.” She added, “We were all happy and relieved that the rest of the Corvallis contingent did have a presence at the Line 3 Day of Action.”
Some fellow marchers were curious about the photos and mentioned that they thought it was a good idea; some even took pictures.
“People in the march wanted to know who they were, and we said, ‘Well, these were people who wanted to come but couldn’t, so these are their proxy,’” said Weymouth.
One of the things that stood out to Kos about the march, which other water protectors have since testified to as well, were the numerous dragonflies filling the sky, providing protection from mosquitoes.
“The whole time there was a swarm of dragonflies fluttering and darting all around us,” said Kos. “Not at all like pests. [It was] magical.”
Weber, who also participated in the march, wrote more about the event and the accompanying dragonflies in a blog post on her overall experiences and takeaways from the gathering for Earthworks, of which she also serves as a Board member.
“The only possible civil disobedience that could be construed of what we were doing was occupying the highway for a few hours so that traffic couldn’t get through, but we were not on Enbridge easements, and we were not on the parts of land that the settler government has said Enbridge could go on,” said Weber. “So the police presence where we were was absolutely minimal.”
What Drew Sheriff’s Response
Others, however, decided to put themselves in situations that drew in heightened presence and response from law enforcement.
One of the actions was the temporary establishment of the Fire Light camp by Indigenous leaders and allies along the end of a wooden boardwalk leading to a construction site where Enbridge workers were preparing to drill underneath the riverbed.
The other action was an occupation of an Enbridge pumping station.
“[It’s] exactly what it sounds like,” said Weber. “It takes a lot of power to move tar sands oil through the pipe because it basically has the consistency of runny peanut butter, and so they have to bring a lot of pumps in to keep it moving.”
The pump station, which was under active construction, was effectively shut down by water protectors who had chained themselves to equipment and machinery. It was there that most of the arrests were made, as well as where a Department of Homeland Security Border Patrol helicopter descended upon protestors and kicked up sand and debris in an attempt to clear them out.
“I was personally very outraged about that,” said Weymouth. “It’s just additional bullying behavior from the police who, after all the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and talks about inappropriate police behavior, should know better than that.”
“Even with our march to the Mississippi river, we didn’t know with 100% certainty that we wouldn’t be arrested or subjected to police brutality, because you just can’t predict that sort of thing — especially when the law enforcement is [incentivized] by Enbridge,” said Weber. “But that action was designed to be the least likely to have that happen. And then the people that went to the pump station were people that made the conscious decision of, ‘Yes, we are going to get arrested, because we know they’re not going to let us stay locked down at this pump station.’”
One of the biggest goals of the gathering was to ramp up the widespread opposition to the construction of Line 3 — to the point where the Biden administration will find it impossible to ignore.
“The important point of it all is to send a message to President Joe Biden that he needs to stop this pipeline,” said Weber. “And I felt that that was effectively done; a lot of good media came out and the issue was definitely elevated in the press, and more attention has been paid than in the past, and we’re only just getting started, as Winona said on Democracy Now!”
“It was a very important event, I think, in terms of demonstrating to Enbridge that they might as well take a look at KXL and pull the plug now and save their money, because there’s a lot of determined people all over the country,” said Weymouth. “And it’s just going to continue through this summer until they give it up.” He continued, “There’s [calls] out for more people to come because people are being arrested and quartered away, and there’s going to be a continuous occupation there in one form or another for at least the rest of the summer until, hopefully, Biden calls it off.”
Corvallis residents, Weber noted, can engage in these efforts to keep up the pressure wherever they are just by picking up the phone to call President Biden. Even seemingly small actions like this, she said, are a valid way of turning to the power of community to drive change.
“[It’s] a great antidote to discouragement — to feeling like these oil companies are too big and have too much power,” said Weber. “And the value of standing with Indigenous allies is that it is morally the right thing to do, [especially] as more and more of us become more informed about the way the history of our country and Canada played out, [which] is not what we were taught in school.”
We Are All Treaty People
The other main takeaway of the gathering was to amplify the message that it is the responsibility of non-Native people, who are living on Native land and continue to benefit from treaties established between the United States government and Native nations while not honoring them, to know and respect the obligations included in these treaties, and to speak up when they are being violated.
“We are all treaty people,” said Weymouth. “It’s not just an issue about climate change; it’s also an issue about living up to our treaty obligations and not destroying the water and the resources that these Indigenous people are relying on and are entitled to in perpetuity.”
“[These treaties] are not just dusty pieces of history,” said Kos. “They mean that Indigenous peoples have sovereign authority over their own lands and territories — but multinational fossil fuel companies like Enbridge are literally bulldozing over those rights. And the U.S. and Canadian governments are enabling that.”
“What we’re talking about here is honoring the treaties; that should be the bare minimum,” said Weber. “And we settler people, it was our ancestors in government that signed those treaties with the ancestors of Indigenous people, so we are party to those treaties as well, and it’s on us to honor the treaties. It’s a moral obligation.”