From the Frontline of Line 3: Sheila Lamb

Content warning: contains references to sexual violence.

Sheila Lamb[1] (White Earth Ojibwe / Eastern Band Cherokee) is part of the Minnesota Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Taskforce. She is also the first Indigenous woman to serve as a city councillor in Cloquet, Minnesota. I met Sheila in 2019, through research conducted to learn from Indigenous water-protectors about their resistance to the proposed Enbridge Line 3 pipeline as part of the Laidlaw scholarship. Since then, the pipeline has gained the final permits required for its construction. Sheila brings us a voice from the frontline of the #StopLine3 resistance and talks about her fight against Line 3 and its links to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives. (Jamie Hinch – Third Generation Project)

 

Testifying – November 2017 / June 2018:

I remember the discomfort of testifying for the Youth Climate Intervenors [2] at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) regarding Enbridge’s Line 3 (it is the purpose of the PUC to ensure that projects like pipelines are necessary, meet all standards, and to issue permits).

I was an expert witness speaking about Indigenous medicines and the harmful effects of extractive industries in regard to sex trafficking and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives (MMIR) [3]Nationally and throughout the world, there is clear documentation of the link between sex trafficking, missing persons of all ages (often Indigenous), and extractive industries.

During one such testimony, the Enbridge employees sat in the back of the room, snickering, mocking, and laughing at the atrocities that their industry commits to my people. Though I wouldn’t let them see me break, I walked out of the room and burst into tears. To this day, I don’t understand their behaviour or the fact that Paul Eberth, then the project manager, could state under oath that he was unaware that his industry was linked to the issues I spoke on.

I told the PUC and all listening about the connection among sex trafficking, MMIR issues, and their industry. I cited specific cases and proof of the connections and, despite the opposition’s responses, felt we had made a very clear case this pipeline shouldn’t be allowed. We proved its destruction of natural resources; the lack of treaty rights being upheld; the connection of MMIR/sex trafficking and extractive industries; the lack of long-term jobs that would come from the pipeline, and so much more.

Yet, despite so much evidence, the PUC allowed the permits for the project to proceed.

 

Being Bought – August 2019:
After I stood as a fairly newly elected city council member (in Cloquet, Northern Minnesota), I asked that we refuse a donation from Enbridge for a hiking path. I had brought in two experts on the issue of sex trafficking to educate the city council on this issue. The experts from ‘Breaking Free, a survivor-based organization for sex trafficking victims and their families, based in St Paul, Minnesota, once again made a link between extractive industries and sex trafficking. That night, the majority of the city council voted to turn down the donation. Two weeks later however, the city council overturned that decision, leaving only the Mayor and myself still in opposition.

The donation was accepted. I was threatened and ridiculed for taking a stand even though fellow tribal members stood with me, begging the council to see the link and not to put the community at risk by being “bought”- Enbridge has a long history of making donations to city councils and counties in order to gain favour. Enbridge was also supposed to form a comprehensive anti sex trafficking plan, which is vague at best, and provide money to the state that would be used by advocacy groups to assist victims. This money was to be distributed before the start of construction, but construction moved ahead of this distribution. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and state have failed to address the issues of donations in order to gain favour, the poor anti trafficking plan, or that Enbridge began construction before these things were in place.

 

Arresting – February 2021:

That brings us to February of this year.  The Bureau of Criminal Affairs Sex Trafficking Task Force, in conjunction with Tribes United Against Sex Trafficking Task Force (TRUST) and other agencies, made arrest of seven individuals who were attempting to purchase sex with minor girls. The sting operation also showed key components in regard to the perpetrators; among these seven, three have now been linked to pipeline work, including two that were actively working on Line 3. These men also had prior convictions for things such as domestic violence, drunk driving, and yes, previous behaviours of buying sex[4]. It was advocates and activists like us that made these links and yet, some still refuse to see the connection.

It wasn’t a feeling of vindication that my testimony was proved correct, but instead a deep sadness that what was foretold, has now come to be.

Those seeking to rape minors were husbands, fathers, people trusted and respected in their own communities, including those who claim to be Christians. They lived both in the Cloquet area and out of-state. These workers, who seek to use young women who are not even old enough to vote, live among us and near our communities. As a mother of three daughters, two of whom are in their teens, the feelings of fear and dread for their safety chokes me. I also work with survivors, and I am haunted by the pain in their eyes because we know it won’t end here.

Ironically, when issues like this come into public view, there are those who still continue to support projects like this. It doesn’t matter that the oil won’t be used by our state or even the US. It doesn’t matter that this pipeline infringes on tribal rights. It doesn’t matter that Minnesota, with over 10,000 lakes and a watershed that feeds Lake Superior and contains the Laurentian Divide[5], would be devastated by an inevitable oil leak[6]. It doesn’t matter that our women and children are targeted by predators who bring pain to our communities and only care about their mighty pipeline going through. What matters to some, men and women alike, is that their pockets are lined because, “we need oil”.

No, we can’t step away from the fossil fuel industry over night, but we can work towards renewable energy. Sadly, we seem to be an instant gratification society that has those without the ability or at least the desire, to see the damage caused on so many levels by extractive industries.

 

The fight continues:

We are still fighting the pipelines in the courts.  Tribes have come forward, as well as climate concerned groups, and yes, the Youth Climate Intervenors, the first group of their kind who are fighting to protect their future and the future of generations to come. The work of youth activists is something we should all be inspired by.

We stand with unified voices, in some cases, literally fighting for the lives of our families and the next seven generations. We bring forwards the atrocities that seem to fall on silent ears of the officials who can shut this pipeline down. We are working on a petition and letter that will be given to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the Attorney General, once again demanding that our communities be protected from predators being brought in for this pipeline, demanding it be shut down. We keep raising the alarm, educating the public, and trying to help those who have been victimized.

Laws need to change and change quickly. As a member of the Minnesota Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Taskforce, we have clearly made the link to these issues. The taskforce has issued twenty mandates in hope of combating the assaults on us as tribal people. We need to hold buyers accountable with much stiffer penalties and not give them a pass. We need to hold traffickers accountable and stop making plea deals. We need to stop granting permits for pipelines which further climate change and bring sex trafficking closer to our communities. All the while, there are more victims. We pray there will be a time when people like me are out of work because the atrocities have stopped.

 

____________________________

If you are a survivor of sex trafficking or prostitution in Minnesota and would like to contact somebody, you can call Breaking Free at +1 651-645-6557 (or their after-hours number: +1 651-219-9287). 

For others who have been distressed reading this, you can contact contact your local Nightline service, an impartial listening service (Google for the right number). The St Andrews Nightline details are: 01334 46 2266 (Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays, 8pm – 2am.)

 


References:

[1] For more about Sheila, check out her story at Our Climate Voices.

[2] The Youth Climate Intervenors are a group of 13 young people who represent the
youth opposition to the Line 3 pipeline.

[3] Though many are familiar with the term Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, things have shifted to include all relatives because males and two spirit individuals are also disproportionately trafficked, missing, and
murdered. It refers to the disproportionately high numbers of Indigenous people who go missing and/ or are murdered. A well-documented case is the Bakkan oil field man camps and the finding of numerous sex offenders and children who had been sexually assaulted.

[4] More information on the investigation can be found here.

[5] The Laurentian Divide is a geological continental divide separating watersheds, meaning an oil spill would flow both north and south devastating an enormous area.

[6] Since 1986, the equivalent of 200 barrels a day of oil has been spilled from over 8000 incidents. More information and a history of both pipelines and their spills can be found here and here.

 

Cover photo: Sheila speaking at a rally. Taken from Our Climate Voices

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