Friday, July 08, 2022

Tribal Court Dismisses Trespass Charges Against Members Holding Religious Ceremony To Block Pipeline

An Ojibwe Tribal Court has dismissed civil trespass charges against three members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe who took part in an 8-day ceremonial gathering blocking construction of a pipeline by Enbridge Energy Corp.  A press release from the Civil Liberties Defense Center gives more background:

Pipeline construction threatened sacred waters, including the Mississippi headwaters, as well as the concomitant ability to hunt, fish, gather, and engage in religious and cultural practices central to Anishinaabe people, and threatened the safety and wellbeing of Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirits as part of the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives.  In the face of these threats, Indigenous Water Protectors and their invited guests lit a ceremonial fire, gathered in prayer, and camped on the matting that stretched over the Mississippi River so that Enbridge’s pipeline could be built through it.  

Fire Light Camp participants were originally charged and prosecuted for trespass by the State of Minnesota in Clearwater County District Court.  The cases of several Indigenous participants were subsequently transferred to White Earth Tribal Court....

In White Earth Band of Ojibwe v. Beaulieu, (White Earth Band Tribal Court, June 27, 2022), the court concluded that the Tribal Code defines trespass as returning to property "without claim of right." Here defendants had the right to hold religious ceremonies (with invited guests) on land ceded to the United States. The Tribal Code recognizes "the rights to travel, use and occupy traditional lands and spiritual places for cultural purposes are part of each tribal members' individually held, historically inherent and inalienable rights that have existed from time immemorial."