Water Protectors holding banner that says, "We Are Treaty People."

Treaty Rights Asserted During Creation of White Earth Camp

White Earth Reservation, MN – On February 20, 2021, the White Earth Camp opened up as an additional Indigenous Women/Femme-led water protector community. On Sunday, February 21, the camp hosted a treaty rights action at a work site where oil giant Enbridge plans to bore under the Mississippi River and lay the new Line 3 tar sands pipeline under it.

Around 50 people held space on the bridge overpass on top of the frozen river. Prayers, songs and chants were shared while soaking up the warm sun. Two Carlton County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene, but kept their distance.

In the video above, we interviewed Everlasting Wind, one of the founders of the White Earth Camp. She told us how she is angry “because the treaties have been ignored so long that people think it’s OK and irrelevant, but it’s not.”

This [1855] treaty was made with the agreement of letting the settlers come and settle the lands and prosper, and the Anishinaabe agreed to live in peace. So it’s often misunderstood that we were given rights, we actually retained our rights and gave the rights to the settlers to come and settle land.

Everlasting Wind

At the start of the rally, Nancy, a co-founder of White Earth Camp, spoke directly to the white allies at the rally:

We signed those treaties with your forefathers to protect our culture; our way of life. We have never, ever, surrendered our right to protect our water, and we’re not about to give it up.”

Nancy

From 1837 to 1867 about 10 treaties were signed between the Ojibwe and Dakota people and the U.S. government where millions of acres were ceded. In the 1837 treaty, the Ojibwe (Chippewa) Nations ceded land from what is now north-central Wisconsin to east-central Minnesota; however as Article 5 of the treaty states, not everything was given up:

“The privilege of hunting, fishing, and gathering the wild rice, upon the lands, the rivers and the lakes included in the territory ceded, is guaranteed to the Indians, during the pleasure of the President of the United States.”

— Article 5 of the 1837 Land Cession Treaty

During the late 1900s, Indigenous people faced harassment and arrest when asserting their treaty rights in ceded territory in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. After many legal battles, a final ruling was made by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999 known as Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians, which affirmed the rights of the Ojibwe to hunt, fish, and gather on the lands ceded by treaty.

Map of ceded and unceded Indigenous land in so-called Minnesota. Image credit: Minnesota Historical Society

While it’s true that “treaties have been ignored for so long,” there are also treaties, or sections of treaties, which the U.S. government upholds, or pushed for in the first place, because the settlers and government benefit greatly.

In the 1837 treaty, owners of the American Fur Company used their political connections to guarantee that when Dakota and Ojibwe people received compensation for ceded landwhich amounted to $16,000 in cash and goods up frontthe fur traders were set to receive over five times that amount.

Kevin Gover (Pawnee) is the director of the National Museum of the American Indian, and from his perspective, the beginning of U.S.-Native treaty making was promising because it seemingly included “American acceptance of tribal self-government and nation-to-nation diplomacy.”

“That promising start quickly morphed into disaster through broken and coercive treaties that promoted Indian removal and tribal land loss, as well as government policies that dismantled tribes as political institutions, obliterated tribal land ownership and fostered the forced assimilation of Native people into white culture.”

Kevin Gover (Pawnee)
Indigenous woman holding a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) red dress sign during the rally on February 21, 2021.

When we asked what Everlasting Wind hopes will come from the White Earth Camp, she said, “that our people begin to heal.”

“We have so much generational trauma that’s carried; we carry that. And to this day we are still being traumatized. This is traumatizing. People don’t understand that; they don’t understand the magnitude of this.

Like I said ‘site specific,’ yes [the pipeline] endangers this area, and it endangers the waters and the wetlands and our wild rice, but it’s at a higher level of climate change. And so with climate change, that puts our natural elementsour four elementsout of balance; we are out of balance.

And that is what climate change is, it’s our environment out of balance. So, that puts our Anishinaabe lifeways at risk.”

Everlasting Wind

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