MINOT, N.D. — If you went only by the headlines, one could reach the conclusion that our Native American neighbors are united in opposition to pipelines, specifically, and oil and gas development, generally.
Take, for example, a recent article by Rebecca Mitchell about a recent demonstration in Wadena, Minn., against the Line 3 pipeline replacement project. Paragraphs are devoted to the point of view of the activists, and one Hollywood celebrity, all of whom presume to speak to represent, or at least support, the Native American view of the issue.
Buried in the last paragraph of the article is this acknowledgment that the Native American view is hardly monolithic, and certainly far more nuanced than professional activists like Winona LaDuke would have us believe: "Earlier in the week, Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner pointed out that the Line 3 replacement project has the support of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and that the White Earth Nation 'was also included and invited to be part of the process' with Enbridge."
It's worth noting that Line 3 is being built through the Fond du Lac Band's lands. The tribe was initially against the project, but after negotiations, were able to reach an accord with Enbridge, much to the consternation of the aforementioned activists.
The Leech Lake Band also opposed the pipeline initially until Enbridge obliged them with a shift in the pipeline's route.
These are important facts.
Many, including those who have staked out an extreme position against oil and gas development, would like to portray the pipeline debate as intractable. Enbridge's work with our friends and neighbors at Fond du Lac and Leech Lake proved that it can be tractable.
Isn't that what we should want?
We are every one of us using the oil and gas these pipelines transport every single day. Even the most virulent, violent anti-pipeline protester boards flights and drives cars and uses one of the myriad products and services made possible by the oil and gas industry.
Shouldn't we want the process that builds the infrastructure that produces and transports these products we're all using to be collaborative?
It's not that opposition to pipelines from Native American communities is unimportant. It's very important. It's what brought Enbridge to the table with Fond du Lac and Leech Lake. The ongoing protests are also consequential news that must be reported diligently.
But recently a group of anti-Line 3 activists attacked a construction site. Their actions got a lot of attention. What got less attention was the fact that some of the contractors at the site they attacked were Native American-owned businesses. Some of workers were themselves Native Americans. They were driven off their worksite, their workspaces were trashed, their equipment was vandalized, by people who claim to be speaking out in the interest of Native Americans.
What worries me is that we've allowed the narrative of the anti-pipeline protesters to dominate this debate. Our goal should be common ground, and yet the people who are finding that common ground are overshadowed by uncompromising zealots making representations about the issue that simply aren't true.
People who, by the way, use lawbreaking as a condoned tactic. In June, I wrote about seminars anti-Line 3 activists held in advance of a summer ramp-up in their activities which promised protesters that they would be compensated with cheap or even free legal counsel, should they get arrested. They also promised bail money, and even new clothing for court.
They've apparently been making good on their promises. Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes, in a July 8 letter to constituents (see below), described activists arrested at Line 3 demonstrations being bailed out with duffel bags full of cash.
Sometimes tens of thousands of dollars at a time.
“What is amazing to me is the process after an arrest is made. The Judge ultimately sets bail for those that are charged with a crime. Time and time again, a protester makes a phone call and someone shows up with a duffel bag full of cash to bail them out," Aukes wrote, noting that on one occasion the amount was $52,000.
The unreasonable people facilitating the often unlawful demonstrations that lead to these arrests, the ones footing the bill for the activism, are winning the narrative war in the news media. They're drowning out the people on each side of the pipeline issue who are willing to act reasonably and in good faith.
That's a real shame.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.