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Tribes claim seat at the table in Line 5 permitting process

Flickr user Doug Kerr



A Michigan judge granted four tribes the right to participate in Enbridge’s Line 5 permitting process last week. The Canadian energy company is looking to relocate and build a tunnel to house its pipeline at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. 


The new ruling gives the tribes — the Bay Mills Indian Community, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi — the opportunity to intervene in the case before the Michigan Public Service Commission, the state agency with the power to approve a tunnel for Line 5. 


“Enbridge’s application for a permit cannot go forward without our involvement,” says Bryan Newland, Tribal Chairman of the Bay Mills Indian Community. 


Three of the tribes now have the opportunity to protect their treaty rights, granted in 1836, which give them access to fish in the waters of the Great Lakes, protected by the Constitution.


When Enbridge first built the pipeline in Michigan waters in the 1950s, tribes did not participate in negotiations.


“That’s a function of colonialism,” says Professor Matthew L.M. Fletcher, director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University. “So it is new in that way, that tribes are participating as equals in this process.”


Going forward, the tribes will likely use their platform to argue that the Line 5 pipeline presents an existential threat to their treaty rights, says Newland. “It is really hard to maintain the right to fish in waters that have been polluted by an oil spill.”

Lexi Krupp reports on science and the environment. Previously, she worked for Gimlet Media where she helped the Science Vs team distinguish what's fact from what's not. Her work has appeared in Audubon, Popular Science, VICE, and elsewhere.