UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Calls for Canada and the US to Decommission Enbridge’s Line 5 Pipeline

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The Permanent Forum reiterates that the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline jeopardizes the Great Lakes and poses a real and credible threat to the human rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the United States. The Forum reiterates its call for Canada and the United States to decommission Line 5.”

Line 5 — a 70-year-old pipeline owned and operated by Canadian company Enbridge — transports up to 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids daily from western to eastern Canada through Anishinaabe territories in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario. Line 5 risks an oil spill that would devastate the Great Lakes, threatening the drinking water of more than 40 million people and the livelihoods and culture of Indigenous Peoples in the United States and Canada. Indigenous communities on both sides of the border have repeatedly called for the decommissioning of Line 5 to protect a broad range of human rights.

Representatives of the Bay Mills Indian Community and civil society groups attended this year’s UNPFII to highlight the risks that Line 5 poses and to call on Canada and the United States to cease enabling and supporting the pipeline’s continued operations and decommission Line 5. Bay Mills President Whitney Gravelle and youth representative Reginald LeBlanc provided statements at the Forum underscoring the serious threats posed by Line 5 to the Great Lakes and the way of life of more than 50 Tribal and First Nations of Anishinaabe in both the United States and Canada, whose culture and livelihoods are sustained by these waters and lands. 

Note: President Gravelle’s statement can be viewed at timestamp 02:36:10.

The UNPFII, which made a similar recommendation about Line 5 during last year’s convening, is one of a growing number of UN bodies and experts drawing attention to Line 5. Its recommendations echo the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ call for Canada to suspend the Line 5 pipeline until the free, prior, and informed consent of affected Indigenous Peoples is secured. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also raised concerns that Line 5’s continued operations threaten the human rights of affected Indigenous communities.

In response, Whitney Gravelle, president of the Bay Mills Indian Community, said:

The continued operation of Line 5 threatens vital natural and cultural resources, endangering the way of life of my nation and my sister nations in Canada and the United States. Enbridge is operating Line 5 without valid easements, and a US federal court has found Enbridge to be trespassing on the land of the Bad River Band. Yet, the Canadian and US governments continue to support and enable the continued operation of the pipeline. These actions are inconsistent with their obligations to respect and protect our human rights, including our right to free, prior, and informed consent. Canada and the United States must heed the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues’ call to decommission Line 5.”

Reginald LeBlanc, youth representative of the Bay Mills Indian Community, said:

“It makes me proud that my father and his father were fishermen; it makes me proud to be Anishinaabe; it makes me proud to continue on the teachings of my ancestors. I cannot do that while Line 5 continues to operate. There will be no future if an oil spill happens. Canada and the United States must respect and protect our rights in response to the grave threat posed by Line 5. Decommissioning Line 5 will help not only my Tribal Nation, but all Great Lakes Anishinaabe, so the generations after ours can also live proudly as Great Lakes Anishinaabe.”

Tamara Morgenthau, Senior Attorney, Center for International Environmental Law, said:

As the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues once again makes clear, Line 5 poses a grave risk to the human rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the US. Both countries have publicly declared their commitment to human rights, including the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples. Yet their support for the continued operation of Line 5, despite the persistent opposition of Indigenous Peoples, flies in the face of these commitments. Canada and the US must reverse course. Respecting and protecting human rights means decommissioning Line 5.”

Sydney Speizman, Legal Fellow, EarthRights International, said:

“International bodies and experts are increasingly recognizing the serious threat that Line 5 poses to the Great Lakes and to Indigenous communities whose livelihoods and culture are intertwined with this critical ecosystem. Yet, we have seen Canada and the United States repeatedly ignore Line 5’s risks and enable the pipeline’s operation. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues’ renewed recommendation makes clear that this status quo cannot continue — Line 5 must be decommissioned.”

James Yap, Acting Director, University of Toronto Faculty of Law International Human Rights Program, said:

“Line 5 was originally designed to last 50 years. It has now been operating for almost 70. This is tempting fate and placing Indigenous communities at an unacceptably high risk — the pipeline needs to be decommissioned now before it’s too late.”

Media Contacts:

Bay Mills Indian Community: Shannon Jones, newspaper@baymills.org

Center for International Environmental Law: Lani Furbank, press@ciel.org 

EarthRights International: Lauren Barnes-Carrejo, lauren.barnes@earthrights.org

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