Opponents of Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline replacement across northern Minnesota are taking a novel legal approach to try to halt construction — they are suing on behalf of wild rice.
Wild rice is the lead plaintiff in a complaint filed Wednesday in White Earth Nation Tribal Court. The lawsuit, which names the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources among the defendants, advances a legal theory that nature in itself has the right to exist and flourish, the Star Tribune reported.
The lawsuit is only the second “rights of nature” case to be filed in the U.S., said Frank Bibeau, a lawyer for the White Earth tribe.
The plaintiffs include manoomin, which means “good berry” in Ojibwe, several White Earth tribal members and Indigenous and non-Indigenous protesters who have demonstrated along the Line 3 construction route. They say the DNR is failing to protect the state’s fresh water by allowing the Calgary-based company to pump up to 5 billion gallons of groundwater from construction trenches during a drought.
They also claim the DNR has violated the rights of manoomin, as well as multiple treaty rights for tribal members to hunt, fish and gather wild rice outside reservations.
The lawsuit seeks to stop the extreme water pumping, and to stop the arrests of demonstrators. To date, more than 700 people have been charged for demonstrations along the Line 3 construction route, Bibeau said.
DNR spokeswoman Gail Nosek said the agency is reviewing the lawsuit and had no further comment.
Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said the company has shown respect for tribal sovereignty and has routed the pipelines outside the Upper and Lower Rice Lake and its watershed because of tribal concerns.
“Line 3 construction permits include conditions that specifically protect wild rice waters,” Little said. “As a matter of fact, Enbridge pipelines have co-existed with Minnesota’s most sacred and productive wild rice stands for over seven decades.”
Line 3 starts in Alberta and clips a corner of North Dakota before crossing northern Minnesota en route to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wis. The 542.35-kilometre line in Minnesota is the last phase in replacing the deteriorating pipeline that was built in the 1960s.