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'Bad River' documentary looks at tribal sovereignty amid Line 5 lawsuit

Man and his son at Waverly Beach, still from "Bad River." (Photo: Richard Schultz/Courtesy of 50 Eggs Films)
Man and his son at Waverly Beach, still from "Bad River." (Photo: Richard Schultz/Courtesy of 50 Eggs Films)

Tribes in Michigan have been watching a federal lawsuit against Enbridge Energy, operator of the Line 5 pipeline which crosses the Straits of Mackinac.

The case, brought by the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Wisconsin, has to do with the portion of Line 5 that stretches across their tribal lands.

Courtesy of 50 Eggs Films.

A new documentary called “Bad River,” talks about the case and the tribal sovereignty.

It's written and directed by Mary Mazzio, narrated by Indigenous actitivist and model Quanna Chasinghorse and actor Edward Norton. It's produced by former Detroit Piston Grant Hill.

"Originally, I thought it would be just this extraordinary David and Goliath story," Mazzio told IPR. "I began having conversations with tribal elders. And they wanted to take the film in a different direction."

Listen to the whole conversation through the audio player with this story.

The documentary changed from focusing solely on Line 5 to also looking at an open pit mining battle that happened five years earlier, as well as treaty rights challenges and assimilation.

"I think it's a remarkable story about sovereignty," Mazzio said. "The theme of sovereignty and fighting for land and culture is one that begins hundreds of years ago. The challenges with the pipeline operator are just the newest challenge."

Despite the change of direction, the film does have plenty to say about the Bad River band's lawsuit and Enbridge Energy.

"I appreciate that the pipeline operator Enbridge took the project seriously, they made themselves available for an interview," Mazzio said. "Their chief communications officer Mike Fernandez showed up, he was prepared, he was respectful. But he holds a viewpoint that is dramatically different from the viewpoint that the (Bad River) Band holds."

In a statement to IPR, Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy says the company "attempted to work with the filmmaker in the hopes a balanced story would be told."

Read the entire Enbridge statement. (PDF)

The statement also says the company is trying to work with the Bad River Band on a solution to their differences.

"We have been seeking the necessary permits for the relocation project for four years while at the same time, we have proposed over a dozen Line 5 maintenance projects," the statement says. "Unfortunately, the Band has arbitrarily denied each proposal but has never proposed a project of their own."

The company says its proposed pipeline relocation project would remove the pipeline from the Bad River Reservation while also bringing investment and hundreds of jobs to the community.

Director Marry Mazzio. (Photo:2019 Clayton Hauck/Courtesy 50 Eggs Films)
Director Marry Mazzio. (Photo:2019 Clayton Hauck/Courtesy 50 Eggs Films)

Updated: March 14, 2024 at 8:08 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include a statement from Enbridge.
Tyler Thompson is a reporter at Interlochen Public Radio.