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llhan Omar pushes Biden to kill Canadian pipeline - and why this will harm indigenous opportunities

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar is pressuring President Biden to kill a planned pipeline from Canada from the Canadian company Enbridge that would carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Canadian tar sands to a terminal in Wisconsin.

“We’re urging him and hope that he will act,” she told VICE News in an interview. “President Biden has the opportunity to be a climate president. This pipeline nearly doubles the volume of tar sands crude oil. It’s the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet and that’s going to be coming in through Minnesota. We cannot meet our carbon reduction targets if this project goes through.”

Omar is joined by the Red Lake and White Earth Nations, two American Indian bands located in Minnesota. The two argue that the Line 3 pipeline, which will cross more than 200 water bodies and 800 wetlands in northern Minnesota, is too much of a risk. A 2010 leak led to 843,000 gallons of tar spilling into the Kalamazoo River. There is a similar risk of dire consequences should it spill into Lake Superior; the nations do not want to see a repeat.

"Today, I am in Northern Minnesota meeting with indigenous leaders organizing to #StopLine3. We owe it to future generations, to the indigenous communities we've signed treaties with, and to every living being on this planet to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure," Omar said on Twitter.

So far, the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday has denied a request to shut down construction of the contentious crude oil pipeline project. Enbridge says the petition has no merit and does not “recognize the exhaustive and meticulous review” of the project, which will replace the deteriorating pipeline that was built in the 1960s.

So far, Biden hasn't commented, but Omar believes the President will side with her. “I’ve been encouraged by his boldness, including his rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline,” she said. “As he did with Keystone, we hope that he will use his authority to stop the construction of Line 3.”

Attempts to kill Line 3, in addition to the previous cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline by U.S. President Joe Biden are major setbacks for indigenous people, says Dale Swampy, a member of the Samson Cree Nation and incumbent president of the National Coalition of Chiefs.

"The decision means fewer jobs in the short term for Indigenous people in constructing the pipeline and supplying goods and services for it," said Swampy. "It’s quite a blow to the First Nations that are involved right now in working with TC Energy to access employment training and contracting opportunities. Within Alberta, First Nations are pretty closely entrenched with all of the activities occurring with the oil and gas industry. Any change, especially a big change like this, really affects our bands’ ability to keep our people employed.”

Without the pipeline, Natural Law Energy, which represents five First Nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan, cannot make an equity investment of up to $1 billion in Keystone XL that the Globe and Mail reports was expected to be extended to American Indigenous groups as well.

Beyond equity investment, Swampy is worried about job availabilities amid the oil glut. Judy Desjarlais, a member of the Blueberry River First Nation in northeastern B.C, says that oil contracts are imperative for indigenous people to feed their families, and that Biden’s decision is a “kick in the teeth” for Canada and our indigenous people.

A December report found that about 13,800 self-identified indigenous people were directly employed in Canada’s oil and gas industry in 2019; 7 in 100 employees are thus of indigenous heritage, compared to 3% in other industries.

Frog Lake First Nation Chief Greg Desjarlais has additionally spoken about the importance of oil work to indigenous prosperity in accordance with what he deems ‘reconciliation through economic prosperity. “Speaking for my nation, which has been heavily involved in oil over the last four decades, the change is immeasurable. We’ve seen massive improvements in housing. Oil dividends have allowed us to provide recreational facilities like a fieldhouse and an arena for the FLFN. Just a short time ago, this would have been impossible—my hat is off to the former chiefs who had this vision, because it has undoubtedly succeeded," he stated.

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