Line 3 pipeline opponents file suit on behalf of wild rice

Youth from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe tend to wild rice in MInnesota. Photo U.S. Department of Agriculture

OGEMA, Minn. (AP)- Opponents of Enbridge Energy’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.

Wild Rice

The plaintiffs include manoomin, which means “good berry” in Ojibwe, several White Earth tribal members and Indian and non-Indian 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 Calgary-based Enbridge 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 coexisted 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, Wisconsin. The 337-mile (542.35-kilometer) line in Minnesota is the last phase in replacing the deteriorating pipeline that was built in the 1960s. -AP-

Winona LaDuke: White Earth Nation recognizes rights of wild rice here’s why:


Manoomin (“wild rice”) now has legal rights. At the close of 2018, the White Earth band of Ojibwe passed a law formally recognizing the Rights of Manoomin. According to a resolution, these rights were recognized because “it has become necessary to provide a legal basis to protect wild rice and fresh water resources as part of our primary treaty foods for future generations.”

This reflects traditional laws of Anishinaabe people, now codified by the tribal government. White Earth’s action follows a similar resolution by the 1855 Treaty Authority.

The law begins: “Manoomin, or wild rice, within all the Chippewa ceded territories, possesses inherent rights to exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve, as well as inherent rights to restoration, recovery, and preservation.”

The Rights of Manoomin include: “The right to clean water and freshwater habitat, the right to a natural environment free from industrial pollution, the right to a healthy, stable climate free from human-caused climate change impacts, the right to be free from patenting, the right to be free from contamination by genetically engineered organisms.”

The Rights of Manoomin are modeled after the Rights of Nature, recognized in courts and adopted internationally during the last decade. In 2008, Ecuador and Bolivia both added Rights of Nature clauses to their constitutions. In 2016, the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin became the first U.S. tribe to adopt the Rights of Nature, and in 2017 the Ponca Nation in Oklahoma became the second. Also in 2017, the New Zealand government granted the Whanganui River the full legal rights of a person as part of its settlement with the Whanganui iwi, a Maori people. That’s the third largest river in Aotearoa (“New Zealand”). India granted full legal rights to the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. The Himalayan Glaciers are also recognized as having rights to exist.


This work internationally is intended to bring jurisprudence into accordance with ecological laws and address the protection of natural ecosystems, which has fallen short in most legal systems. As the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature explains on its website:

“Under the current system of law in almost every country, nature is considered to be property, a treatment which confers upon the property owner the right to destroy ecosystems and nature on that property. When we talk about the ‘rights of nature,’ it means recognizing that ecosystems and natural communities are not merely property that can be owned, but are entities that have an independent right to exist and flourish. Laws recognizing the rights of nature thus change the status of natural communities and ecosystems to being recognized as rights-bearing entities with rights that can be enforced by people, governments, and communities.”


White Earth’s Rights of Manoomin is groundbreaking. “This is a very important step forward in the Rights of Nature movement,” Mari Margil, Associate Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund explains. “This would be the first law to recognize legal rights of plant species.” White Earth and the 1855 Treaty Authority worked with CELDF’s International Center for the Rights of Nature to develop the law. 

The Rights of Manoomin reaffirms the Anishinaabe relationship and responsibility to wild rice, its sacred landscape, and traditional laws. Wild rice is also the only grain explicitly listed in a treaty as a guarantee. 

“Treaties are the supreme law of the land and we Chippewa have (U.S.) constitutionally protected, usufructuary property rights to hunt, fish, trap, and gather wild rice,” explained Frank Bibeau, Executive Director of the 1855 Treaty Authority. “We understand that it is the individual tribal members’ usufructuary rights to gather food and earn a modest living that are essential to our lives and important for the success of future generations’ ability to maintain our culture and traditions, essentially to be Anishinaabe,” he added. “We understand that water is life for all living creatures and protecting abundant, clean, fresh water is essential for our ecosystems and wildlife habitats to sustain all of us and the manoomin.” – Winona LaDuke-


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