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Judge Dismisses Two Water Protector Cases as Not Supported by the Evidence

Others Continue the Fight in Pennington County Court


Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Chava Shapiro info[at]

Nizhoni Begay communications[at]

Claire Glenn claire[at]

A Pennington County judge has dismissed two Water Protectors’ cases, a major legal victory in which the Court reconsidered prior judicial rulings and agreed that the charges of gross misdemeanor trespass and misdemeanor obstruction were not supported by the evidence. These dismissals come more than a year after the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, along with other supporting law enforcement agencies, meted out extreme violence against those resisting Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline, and are the latest in a string of victories for Water Protectors in Line 3 related cases in counties across Minnesota.

In July 2021, Indigenous Water Protectors and those allied with them took action to resist the active drilling by Enbridge, a Canadian energy corporation, that threatened the water and land of Anishinaabe peoples. The violent police response included use of chemical weapons and “less-lethal” munitions. Water Protectors suffered injuries from rubber bullets, ranging from welts to a severe head injury to one Water Protector who is pursuing civil action for the unlawful use of excessive force. The site of this violence was the Red Lake Treaty Camp, a Water Protector camp on historically and culturally significant Anishinaabe lands which had been permitted by the Red Lake Tribal Council since December 2020.

The high financial cost of this militarized policing was paid for by Enbridge through an escrow account managed by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Ultimately, the escrow account paid out $8.6 million to Minnesota law enforcement, money that incentivized police and state violence, harassment, and surveillance of Indigenous peoples and Water Protectors.

The violence Water Protectors endured was particularly extreme in Pennington County as an apparent attempt to scare protestors and demoralize the movement. Describing the day of their arrest, one Water Protector whose case was dismissed explained: “I felt powerless that day. I've never felt more powerless. Demoralization is the state's strategy. But the antidote felt like doing more. If I take another action, and don't let them win, that feels to me like taking back my power and being in power with others who feel the same. Being with other Water Protectors, fighting our cases together, felt like a way to exercise agency.”

While a number of cases have been dismissed, others continue to move through the courts. Attorney and Line 3 Legal Fellow Claire Glenn noted, “I am thrilled for the hard fought legal victory of these two Water Protectors. But several other cases remain open, and so the collective fight continues. The tenacity and commitment to solidarity exhibited by Line 3 resistance Water Protectors is nothing short of inspiring.”

One of the last two Water Protectors facing a felony charge, Bernie will appear at the courthouse in Thief River Falls for a contested pretrial hearing later today. Bernie previously had filed a motion to dismiss their case, arguing that law enforcement violated their constitutional rights and that the felony charge is unsupported by the facts. Today, attorneys for both sides will have an opportunity to question law enforcement under oath before the Court decides whether to dismiss the case. The State continues to pursue criminal charges against numerous other Water Protectors for Line 3 resistance. In Pennington County, trials are scheduled in February and March 2023.

Claire Glenn, Attorney-Fellow for the Line 3 Legal Defense Project of the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) and Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC), represented the two Water Protectors whose cases were dismissed by the Court on reconsideration of its prior rulings. She also represents Bernie and four other Water Protectors in Pennington County facing active criminal charges.

Born out of the #NoDAPL movement, The Water Protector Legal Collective is an Indigenous-led legal nonprofit that provides support and advocacy for Indigenous peoples and Original Nations, the Earth, and climate justice movements.

The Civil Liberties Defense Center uses litigation, education, legal, and strategic resources to strengthen and embolden movements that seek to dismantle the political and economic structures at the root of social inequality and environmental destruction.

Enbridge’s Line 3 Pipeline

Enbridge is a Canadian fossil fuel corporation that owns the Line 3 tar sands pipeline. Line 3 snakes from Canada to Minnesota, crossing wild rice fields (manoomin) central to Anishinaabe traditions and hundreds of rivers, lakes, and wetlands, including the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Enbridge has a history of spills that indicate the likelihood of future spills. There have been at least 28 documented frac-outs from the Line 3 pipeline, with more suspected and unreported. The construction of the Line 3 pipeline has caused irreversible environmental damage along its route.

Line 3 also brought concerns of increased rates of violence against Indigenous peoples where fossil fuel companies have camps of workers called “mancamps.” Proximity to these mancamps threatens the safety of Indigenous women, girls, 2-Spirit peoples, and relatives.

For more background on Line 3 visit:

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