News Articles | Indigenous Environmental Network | August 21, 2009
Cass Lake, MN: In a decision issued on August 19th, Leech Lake Tribal Court Judge BJ Jones declined an attempt by Enbridge LLC to keep members of the Leech Lake tribe from voting on Enbridge's contract with the Leech Lake Council. The decision keeps alive a David versus Goliath lawsuit between members of the Leech Lake tribe and Enbridge LLC.
Last week, Leech Lake tribal members went to court to seek an injunction to revoke permission for Enbridge Energy Company to build its pipeline on Leech Lake Tribal land. While the court agreed with the tribal members on three of their five arguments, the court was unable to issue a temporary restraining order because Enbridge did not yet have its Presidential Permit nor Department of Interior approval of the rights of way and permits. The court concluded that, if the referendum was held and the contract with Enbridge was rejected by tribal members, the court would have the authority to revisit the question of a temporary restraining order, at that time. The court also stated that, if a Presidential Permit was issued and if the Bureau of Indian Affairs signed off on permitting the pipeline to cross allotment lands, this would provide the proof needed to demonstrate "irreparable harm was imminent" to tribal members.
Since the tribal court's ruling was received the same day that the State Department granted Enbridge its Presidential Permit, tribal members now are considering their next steps, both in court and in the referendum process.
Elizabeth Sherman, Leech Lake Tribal Member and petitioner said, "This fight is not over, the Court showed that we have merit, standing and are fighting in the right jurisdiction, namely Leech Lake Tribal Court."
One issue the court left unaddressed was tribal sovereignty. The court suggested that this can be reviewed, once the Leech Lake Tribal Council makes a decision on a referendum that would overturn its decision to accept the pipeline. Over 600 tribal signatures for a petition have been collected to show that this must be allowed.
Sherman stated, "We feel that the Leech Lake Tribal Attorney, in cooperation with Enbridge attorneys, has delayed making a decision on the referendum process on purpose."
Yesterday, the Sierra Club, Earth Justice, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy also issued statements that they will plan to file lawsuits against the State Department about its decision to approve the Alberta Clipper pipeline which will bring vast amounts of Canada's high-carbon oil sands into the US. from Alberta, Canada.
The first legal issue argued was, do the Plaintiffs have standing to bring this action to court. In the written decision Judge BJ Jones states
"The Court concludes that the Plaintiffs in this case do have standing as petition signers and Band Members, not as landowners, whose interests may be harmed by the actions of the Defendant". (Enbridge LLC)
The second issue raised was, Does Leech Lake Tribal Court have Jurisdiction on this case?
Judge BJ Jones ruled that Leech Lake Tribal Court has Limited Jurisdiction on this case. In the written decision Judge BJ Jones states
"The Court further concludes that this Court has some limited jurisdiction in this action to determine the effect of a pending referendum petition submitted to the Leech Lake RBC on the contractual rights of the Defendant (Enbridge LLC) to proceed with the pipeline project and that the contract between the RBC and the Defendant does not deprive this Court jurisdiction over this discreet issue."
A third issue raised was if enough evidence was provided to show that irreparable harm was imminent. The court ruled that since the Secretary of State and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have not signed off on the pipeline [as of August 18], there is no immediate imminent danger to the lands. Therefore, the Court declined to issue a temporary restraining order.
The court did state
"This case will not be dismissed at this time, however, because it does appear that this Court may have some limited jurisdiction on the referendum issue once, and if, that issue ever becomes ripe for resolution."
Indigenous Environmental Network
Leech Lake: The Leech Lake Court hearing was only the latest in a series of actions that tribal members have been participating in. They have long been concerned about a wide range of issues ranging from tribal sovereignty issues; to environmental and health concerns should oil spills occur (with recent oil spills on record ); and threats to America's second largest bald eagle population, which nest on tribal land. They have held rallies and marches, succeeding in getting participation from many non-tribal member. Over 600 petitions were signed to seek a referendum to overturn Leech Lake Tribal council's vote permitting the pipeline. Leech Lake tribal members and IEN also recently sent a letter to Sec. Clinton asking her to deny the permit for the Alberta Clipper pipeline and they have begun outreach to other D.C. based politicians and policy makers.
IEN is an Indigenous environmental justice network-grassroots organization, founded in 1990. We strive to empower Indigenous and First Nations communities to speak for themselves; to build community leadership and develop capacity and political knowledge to protect and maintain the health of communities and tribal nations. We do this through direct engagement of the community, recognizing existing strengths and resources, such as traditional indigenous knowledge, and building upon them to create positive and lasting systemic change. Indigenous peoples have a strong tradition and history of caring for the environment, are disproportionately affected by environmental health risks, and yet are largely ignored within the environmental and other social justice movements. IEN works to bring the essential voice of Indigenous Peoples to the table.
Dirty Oil Sands Network:
An international network of environmental groups recently kicked off a campaign asking Clinton to stop the Alberta Clipper pipeline project. The groups launched a web site, http://www.dirtyoilsands.org/, ran newspaper ads, and sent emails asking citizens to weigh in. More than 20,000 people have written Clinton.
The tar sands project threatens the Great Lakes and would crisscross the Northern Plains and Native American reservations. Proposed pipelines would run through the Dakotas, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin. Farmers, ranchers, tribes and Midwestern landowners have all opposed the pipelines, citing risks of oil spills and water and air pollution. Despite the significant threats this project poses to our national interest and economy, to date no national department has ever reviewed the full scope or long-term impacts of creating a permanent continental-wide infrastructure to accept Canada’s dirty oil sands. Instead, this decision has been left to local jurisdictions to review, pipeline by pipeline, refinery by refinery, permit by permit. www.dirtyoilsands.org