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Tribal interests remain at heart of opposition to Great Lakes oil pipeline

Enbridge company sign on top of a building in Toronto, Canada
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Enbridge company sign on top of a building in Toronto, Canada

Later this month, Indigenous leaders will speak before a United Nations panel about their ongoing concerns with a controversial oil pipeline in the Great Lakes region.

Enbridge Energy's Line 5 operation is likely to come up when the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues convenes in New York.

Back in the Midwest, organizations such as Earthjustice represent the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

The tribe has been contesting Line 5 in Wisconsin as Enbridge seeks to re-route the pipeline.

Earthjustice Senior Attorney Stefanie Tsosie said the proposal isn't an improvement in minimizing the effect on tribal lands.

"The Bad River Band is already at a risk of an oil spill because the pipeline is going directly through their reservation," said Tsosie, "and the re-route, if you look at the map, it's basically hugging the reservation boundaries."

She said her team is preparing for litigation if permits for the re-route are issued.

The tribe has previously filed lawsuits against Line 5 in an effort to shut it down, prompting the latest route plans. Similar cases have been active in Michigan.

Enbridge argues the pipeline is a key source of energy and rejects claims and legal decisions that it's trespassing on tribal lands.

On the Michigan side, opponents say they're worried about Enbridge's latest Line 5 plans to construct an oil tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac, a connecting waterway.

The company says it would be safer than the existing pipeline section, but Native American Rights Fund Senior Staff Attorney Wes Furlong said there's real concern about a worst-case scenario.

"If a leak happened within that tunnel, it would cause a catastrophic failure," said Furlong, "pumping crude oil into the Straits and into the Great Lakes."

He said pushing back against Line 5 aligns with calls to reduce the use of fossil fuels, citing their connection to climate change and the impact on treaty-reserved resources Midwest tribes rely on.

First built in 1953, the pipeline can transport up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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