GUEST COLUMN: Enbridge ignoring calls from public to decommission Line 5

Gracie Waukechon
Special to NEW Media

This year, let’s make and fulfill a New Year’s resolution to save the Great Lakes and decommission Line 5.

Line 5, owned and operated by Canadian company Enbridge, carries crude oil across Wisconsin, Michigan, and through the Great Lakes. Despite the journey this oil takes on Wisconsin and Michigan’s soil and waterways, there is little to no gain for Wisconsinites. Yet, we face an alarming environmental crisis because of Line 5. This crisis is not a matter of if. It is a matter of when. Yet, Enbridge refuses to decommission the line or cease trespassing on tribal land.

Built in 1953, Line 5 was constructed to operate for only 45 years. Seventy-one years post-construction, it runs 22 million gallons of oil daily through Wisconsin, Michigan, and the Great Lakes via the straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Huron meet. This eroding pipeline has spilled over 30 times since 1968, putting the Great Lakes at risk.

While Line 5 risks everyone relying on the Great Lakes, Wisconsinites must understand how Enbridge disrespects and disregards the tribal lands and waters that the pipeline crosses. With petroleum deposits originating in Alberta, the oil travels from the Alberta Clipper to Line 5 in Superior, Wisconsin.

This crosses into the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s Reservation. However, the easements allowing Enbridge to use tribal land expired over a decade ago. The Band filed a lawsuit in 2019, and Judge William Conley ordered Enbridge to halt the oil passage on the reservation within three years. Enbridge has yet to leave tribal land. Following flooding in May 2023, the eroding pipeline became an even greater danger to the reservation.

Even after this lawsuit, Enbridge threatens Bad River’s waterways. In 2020, Enbridge counter-proposed to reroute next to tribal land. However, this would continue to impact the tribe negatively, as it would operate on rivers flowing into the reservation. When the pipeline breaks, the oil will flow into the reservation, poisoning the water, wild rice beds, and biodiversity.

Yet, it is not only the Bad River Band whose sovereignty and stewardship of the land are violated by Enbridge. The Bay Mills Indian Community of Michigan holds a spiritual, historical, and cultural connection to the Straits of Mackinac, the birthplace of the Anishinaabe origin story. The inevitable oil spill will be detrimental to the community’s cultural, agricultural, economic, and spiritual survival.

Over 60 tribes across the Midwest and Canada, including the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, have united to protect treaty rights, sovereignty, and the Great Lakes. Survival as tribal people is interwoven with the water and land on which we have lived for thousands of years. Contamination of the Great Lakes will sever present and future tribal people from the water we have thrived on long before European contact.

The organization 350 Wisconsin, oceanographers, environmental scientists, tribal nations, Earthjustice, the Native American Rights Fund, and even Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel all agree that this will become the worst inland oil spill that North America has ever seen. It will devastate Wisconsin and Michigan’s water, recreation, commerce, and biodiversity.

When profit is valued above clean water, safe biodiversity, and tribal sovereignty, it is morally reprehensible and an inevitable environmental crisis. Enbridge is already responsible for the worst inland oil spill in US history. One million gallons of oil from the ruptured 6B pipeline polluted Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010. This left residents unhoused, water polluted, and wildlife decimated.

Days before, Enbridge assured the public that the pipeline was secure. Enbridge believes we benefit from Line 5, yet it is merely a hazardous shortcut for another nation’s profit. Is this worth the risk of another catastrophic spill? Shouldn’t clean water prioritize fossil fuels, a dwindling energy source?

More importantly, do we want to risk this with our Great Lakes — 20% of the world’s freshwater source?

I urge all Wisconsinites to stand with the Bad River Band, the Bay Mills Indian Community, 350 Wisconsin, the Native American Rights Fund, and all other Midwestern and Canadian individuals, native and non-native, that rely on the Great Lakes and hold a respect for the natural world that fossil fuel profits cannot replace. Line 5 puts every living creature relying on the Great Lakes in danger. So, as we move forward into 2024, let’s all follow through on a New Year’s resolution to protect our water. If we cannot care for our waterways, we cannot care for Netāēnawēmakanak- all of our relations.

For more information on what you can do to save the Great Lakes and stop Line 5, visit or

Gracie Waukechon, who lives in Bonduel, is a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and a descendant of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.