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Midwest Tribes to take Line 5 concerns to United Nations forum

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Mark Richardson

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(Illinois News Connection) Native American leaders from the Midwest will go before a United Nations panel with their concerns over a controversial oil pipeline they say is trespassing on tribal lands.

Enbridge's Line 5 operation in the Great Lakes region is expected to be a topic when the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues convenes Monday in New York.

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In the Midwest, the law firm Earthjustice represents some Tribes contesting the rerouting of Line 5 in Wisconsin. There, managing attorney Debbie Chizewer said climate change is affecting the region and tribal nations' ability to exercise their treaty rights.

"The perpetuation of this fossil-fuel infrastructure will only worsen that," she said, "and will affect their special tribal resources, like sugar maple and loons, and whitefish and other species that are an integral part of Bay Mills and other tribal nations."

The pipeline runs through Wisconsin and Michigan, traversing the treaty-reserved territory of tribal nations, including the Bay Mills Indian Community and Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Enbridge rejects those claims and has said it isn't trespassing on tribal lands.

Similar cases have been filed in other parts of the Midwest. In Michigan, opponents have said they're worried about Enbridge's plan to construct an oil tunnel beneath the Great Lakes. The company has claimed it would be safer than the existing pipeline, but Native American Rights Fund senior staff attorney Wes Furlong said he sees it as a disaster waiting to happen.

"There is a likelihood that if a leak happened within that tunnel, it would cause a catastrophic failure," he said. "Essentially, the tunnel could explode underneath the Straits of Mackinac, pumping crude oil into the strait and into the Great Lakes."

Furlong said pushing back against Line 5 aligns with calls to reduce the use of fossil fuels, citing its connection to climate change and the impact on treaty-reserved resources in the Midwest, on which Tribes rely.

"There's pending litigation over the State of Michigan's order to shut down the pipeline, and ordering Enbridge to vacate the state-owned bottomlands of the Strait of Mackinac," he added. "So, that would spell, I think, the end of Line 5 as we know it."