U.N. panel on Indigenous issues asks Canada and U.S. to shut down Line 5 pipeline

By: - May 4, 2023 1:21 pm

Tribal citizens and supporters march through Mackinaw City to protest Line 5 as part of the “Heart of the Turtle” international Indigenous gathering in opposition to oil pipelines, May 14, 2022. (Photo by Laina G. Stebbins)

In a final report issued Friday, April 28, an Indigenous-led United Nations panel recommended that Canada and the United States shut down the controversial Line 5 oil pipeline that transports oil through tribal treaty lands and waters in Michigan.

“The permanent forum calls on Canada to reexamine its support for Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline that jeopardizes the Great Lakes,” the report reads, adding that Line 5 “presents a real and credible threat to the treaty-protected fishing rights of Indigenous Peoples in the United States and Canada.”

Since 2000, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) has served as a high-level advisory body to the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council. It has met every year since 2002.

A spokesperson for Enbridge, a Canadian energy company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The American flag flies outside the United Nations Headquarters in New York, New York on July 20, 2018. | State Department photo/ Public Domain via Flickr Public Domain

The 70-year-old Line 5 pipeline transports Canadian oil under the tumultuous waters where Lakes Michigan and Huron connect. That area — the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac — is also the nexus of tribal land and waters ceded in the 1836 Treaty of Washington.

The Canadian government has been strongly supportive of Enbridge’s pipeline projects in the United States, and has attempted to intervene numerous times in Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s ongoing legal fight to decommission Line 5.

President Joe Biden has not taken a public stance on Line 5, so the position of the federal government on the issue remains unclear while pipeline treaty talks between the two countries continue.

In March, dozens of local Democratic party leaders sent a letter to Biden urging his administration’s legal support in Nessel v. Enbridge. In January, Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Chair Lavora Barnes asked Biden to declare a climate emergency and cancel the presidential permits authorizing Line 5 to cross the United States-Canada border.

“The Anishinabek are the people of the Great Lakes and never before has there been such a unified call for action for both the United States and Canada to abandon failing fossil fuel infrastructure to protect our land and water,” said Bay Mills Indian Community Ogimaakwe (President) Whitney Gravelle.

A coalition of Indigenous leaders and environmental advocates participated in this year’s forum to push for Line 5 to be a focus of human rights concern.

The petitioners included representatives of 10 of the 12 federally recognized Anishinaabek tribes in Michigan: Bay Mills Indian Community, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians, Hannahville Indian Community, Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians of Michigan, Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Other petitioners are representatives of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians and Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, both of which are rooted in northern Wisconsin; the Anishinabek Nation, a First Nations organization that represents 39 member First Nations in what is now Ontario, Canada; the Georgetown Environmental Law and Justice Clinic, Center for International Environmental Law: EarthRights International; and Environmental Defence Canada.

In early April, all of the above petitioners also sent a letter to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council asking that Canada be made to abandon efforts to protect Line 5.

“Our decision to address the United Nations Permanent Forum on this matter reflects the Anishinabek Nation’s unwavering commitment to ensuring Canada upholds its international obligations as a member of the global community,” said Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment and Native issues. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.