A video recently released by Canadian oil company Enbridge has elicited both criticism and condemnation from Indigenous leaders in Michigan.
Tribal leaders and activists from across the state contend the video, produced by a consultant and posted to the company’s website, appropriates Anishinaabek practices to gain support for the company’s controversial pipeline operations in the state.
All five tribes with treaty rights near the Straits of Mackinac oppose the 68-year-old Line 5 pipeline and its proposed tunnel-enclosed replacement. They assert that this is a violation of their protected hunting and fishing rights. They cite threats to those rights from direct damage via oil spills, as well as climate change from the cumulative effects of fossil fuel use.
The video called, “Seeking peacemaking with Michigan tribes,” was produced by 7th Legacy LLC, a consulting firm operated by two GTB citizens, Desmond Berry and Kris Ingrao. Up until 2019, Berry directed the tribe’s Natural Resource Department and had been a prominent voice in calls to shut down Line 5. His departure to start a business and immediately serve Enbridge as a client shocked and upset tribal leadership and activists.
Critics say the video is an attempt to make it seem that the company has buy-in from Native communities via an appropriated and misused version of peacemaking.
“Peacemaking is a bit of a fantasy when you’re also simultaneously engaged in taking anti-tribal, anti-environmental positions in numerous forums around the country,” said John Petoskey, a citizen of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB) and associate attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
He pointed out that state and federal decisions on Enbridge permits and projects legally require tribal consultation, and the company would have to show evidence of consultation during any court reviews.
“It’s a litigation tactic. It’s a way that Enbridge can say it engaged with tribes in a genuine way,” said Petoskey.
Enbridge and the state of Michigan are entangled in several court disputes about the fate of the dual Line 5 pipeline, which was placed under the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac in 1953 following an agreement (easement) between the company and the state.
In November, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the revocation and termination of that easement — effective May 12 — while giving Enbridge the same deadline to decommission the pipeline. Enbridge is fighting that order in court to keep Line 5 operating, and has made it clear it will not shut down the pipeline unless Michigan secures a court ruling that gives Whitmer’s directives legal backing.
The video Berry’s firm produced for Enbridge emphasizes the values of reconciliation and commitment to resolution as part of the Anishinaabek peacemaking process. Berry’s daughter, Kristen, is one of the speakers, alongside Tony Davis of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.
“Native Americans are the original peacemakers,” Berry says in the video.
“A council of elders was called to preside over meaningful conversations that included both parties engaged in the conflict, as well as the entire community,” she continues, describing what would traditionally happen when conflict arose in Anishinaabek communities.
“These discussions would continue until both parties were able to effectively communicate their issues and find a peaceful resolution,” says Berry.
The Anishinabek Caucus of Michigan responded to the video with a statement calling it a “misleading representation” of Tribes’ positions on Line 5.
“Enbridge recently posted a video implying that the 12 federally recognized Tribes of Michigan are open to ‘starting the journey and the possibility of reconciliation’ concerning Line 5 via traditional peacemaking,” the statement reads. “This is false.”
Aaron Payment is chair of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and president of the United Tribes of Michigan.
“Misuse of our cultural concepts is cultural appropriation and is patently offensive. Enbridge is hereby instructed to stop!” Payment said in the release.
7th Legacy did not respond to a request for comment.
The video disappeared from Enbridge’s website shortly after Indigenous mapmaker Aaron Carapella asked for its removal on Sunday.
“Your company has illegally utilized my map in this video about 2 minutes in,” Carapella’s email to Enbridge reads. “Please remove it immediately. Not removing it may make you subject to legal ramifications”
In a statement, Carapella told the Michigan Advance and Traverse City Record-Eagle his maps were “not intended to bolster the perspective of giant corporations,” and he has requested that Enbridge never use his maps again.
“This is a perfect example of why their position is manipulative and disingenuous,” Carapella added.
The video was re-uploaded Tuesday with a different map of tribal nations to replace Carapella’s version.
Petoskey said peacemaking is a process used frequently in tribal courts in situations like domestic disputes and is intended to reduce incarceration. It does not translate to abdication of one side, which is what he believes Enbridge is trying to promote with the video.
He noted that one of the baseline assumptions in peacemaking is first, “The abuse must stop”.
“[And] they’re never going to give up the Great Lakes tunnel, they’re not going to give up on Line 3, they’re going to keep Line 5 running through reservations in the 1842 Treaty territory, and they just have no intention of conceding on any of that. And so it certainly is a bastardization of the process,” Petoskey said.
“It’s just super puzzling as to why some think that engaging with the company in this way is going to be effective,” he continued.
Nathan Wright, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, said he initially noticed Carapella’s map being used in the video and brought it to his attention.
Wright is a core member of MackinawOde, an Indigenous water protection group that protests Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, and addressed the video in a post on their Facebook page.
“It is disgusting how low they will go,” he wrote. “They even displayed a sacred pipe in the video. That in itself is bad medicine…that can come back to haunt you. Not by people but by spirits and karma.”
He said MackinawOde has no desire to sit down with the company.
“We do want their dangerous decrepit pipeline out of our sacred waters,” he wrote in the post. “There is no peacemaking with a destructive entity that goes against all our cultural teachings.”
GTB Chairman David Arroyo called the video “vastly inappropriate” and “insulting.”
“The only video I’d like to watch from Enbridge is if it was footage of them shutting [Line 5] down,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo added that he thinks Enbridge commissioned the video to demonstrate goodwill in the public eye, but the result is the opposite in his view.
In a statement before Enbridge reposted the video, spokesperson Ryan Duffy said the company is “committed to peacemaking with Michigan Tribes and their citizens.”
“Enbridge’s understanding of Tribal values has increasingly grown over the years. … As described in the video, peacemaking requires a significant effort, yet with strong processes and commitment, reconciliation can occur. We are in the process of updating the video, and it will be back online as soon as possible,” Duffy said.
He did not respond to a question Wednesday about why the video was re-uploaded, nor did he address criticism that some feel the video is manipulative and appropriative.
The video is just one part of a larger media blitz Enbridge has undertaken in order to promote the Line 5 tunnel project and support the current pipeline. The company has spent at least $863,341 on television ads in 2021 alone, according to public cable buy information compiled by the liberal nonprofit group Progress Michigan.
Enbridge’s associated group, “Great Lakes Michigan Jobs,” has also spent more than $112,500 on Facebook/Instagram ads since 2018 to promote the tunnel project.
Ishkwaazhe Shane Mcsauby, another GTB citizen and a documentary filmmaker, was arrested in Minnesota on March 25 while protesting Enbridge’s replacement of its Line 3 oil pipeline.
While he and other Indigenous water protectors peacefully prayed in an Anishinaabe lodge on an Enbridge construction site, he said police ripped sacred medicines out of their hands and threw them on the ground before making arrests. Police later cut apart the lodge.
McSauby and others were charged with unlawful assembly and trespassing. He called the Enbridge/7th Legacy video “hard to watch.”
“You’ve got people using their spirit names in this video, and telling people how we use our pipes and how we use our ceremony, how we use our medicines,” said McSauby. “And all in the name of Enbridge, all in the name of destroying the land and water.”
McSauby says that there is a long history of governments and corporations trying to buy the allegiance of Indigenous people.
“It’s sad, because, you know, we come from communities that have been ravaged by capitalism, and oftentimes so many community members live in poverty,” McSauby explained. “Enbridge knows this and, you know, has millions and millions of dollars which they can throw at people.”
Kyle Whyte, a citizen of the Oklahoma-based Citizen Band of Potawatomi Nation and professor at the University of Michigan who serves on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, said Enbridge’s video does not erase this history.
“Are tribal leaders respected by corporate and other government leaders? Do Tribes have an enforceable right to veto extractive projects on lands that matter to them? Can tribes determine the scope of risk, and the nature of harms according to their values, rights, and responsibilities? Can Tribal communities trust the transparency and scientific integrity of fossil fuel companies? Good faith matters, and these questions, among others, cannot be ignored,” Whyte said.
This story is a collaboration between the Traverse City Record-Eagle and the Michigan Advance.