WASHINGTON – A black cloth snake slipped through the United States’ capital on Thursday as a symbol of the oil pipelines that threaten the ancestral lands of the country’s indigenous communities, immersed perhaps in the greatest environmental struggle in their history.
The symbolic reptile reached the White House with some 150 activists demanding that President Joe Biden cancel the expansion project of a pipeline called “Line 3,” destined to transport crude oil from the Canadian province of Alberta through Minnesota to Wisconsin.
Holly T. Bird, a lawyer and judge for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi people told EFE she was asking Biden to do the work he’s “supposed to do, which is for the people.”
“It’s not supposed to be for foreign corporations,” she said. “It’s supposed to protect us. Allowing these pipelines through our water does not protect us.”
The fight against “Line 3” intensified in December when the Canadian company Enbridge, one of the largest oil and gas distributors in North America, began construction on a new pipeline replacement in Minnesota.
The project will help the state’s economy and has the support of some indigenous people, an Enbridge spokesperson, Juli Kellne, told EFE.
However, the new structure will pass through lands in the north of that state that until now had not been affected by the pipelines and that belong to the Anishinaabeg tribe, who fear that an oil spill would destroy their wetlands.
Water has a special meaning for the Anishinaabeg and other tribes who consider it the source of life and the first medicine to fight disease.
“Our bodies,” Bird said, “are 90 percent water. We need water to live... If we don’t have it, if the birds, the bugs and the bees... if all of creation doesn’t have it, then life here on Earth dies as we know it.”
The messages around preserving ancestral lands and their water predominated a march full of colorful skirts, chanting and drumming.
The demonstration began a mile from the White House, in front of the US Army Corps of Engineers, which in November gave Enbridge final clearance to continue with its Line 3 project, a decision that indigenous communities and environmental groups have challenged in court.
As part of the protest, a group of young people left 10 white boxes containing some 200,000 complaints against the project outside the grey building.
At the moment in which they deposited the boxes on the ground, huge raindrops began to fall, sparking shouting and applause from the activists, who interpreted it as a sign. “It’s Mother Nature!” yelled one.
After the delivery was complete, the march to the White House began: the huge 75-meter-long snake began to slide, held every meter-and-a-half by an activist with a bamboo stick. It was followed closely by a huge figure of Biden.
The march was closed by two women in white and with bouquets of lilies, who called themselves “the peace brigade” but when asked what their mission was, they raised their fingers to their mouths as a sign of silence.
The snake had messages written on it asking Biden to “Stop the black snake,” “Close down DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline),” and “Stop Line 3,” and upon reaching the White House, protesters began to beat the snake with force to “kill” it.
Then, a metal skeleton and pieces of red cloth were uncovered, symbolizing the blood shed by indigenous peoples in their fight against these oil “snakes,” Puerto Rican environmental activist Aura Angelica, 24, told EFE.
For about six years now, indigenous peoples have come together more than in the past century to fight the pipelines, especially the Dakota Access, which was completed under Donald Trump, and Keystone XL, which Biden canceled days after entering the White House.
Activists want Biden to do with the Line 3 project what he did with Keystone, but so far he has shown no signs of wanting to follow the same path.