U.N. Indigenous forum tells U.S. and Canada to decommission Great Lakes oil pipeline / by Brandon Chew

The Mackinac Bridge is visible from a marker near Enbridge Line 5 on the northern shore of the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan. | Neil Blake / The Grand Rapids Press via AP

Originally published in the People’s World on May 15, 2023


LANSING, Mich.—On Friday, April 28, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues called on Canada and the U.S. to decommission Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline, which runs underneath the Straits of Mackinac.

Connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, the Straits are the short waterways between the state of Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

In the final report of its annual session, the UNPFII stated that Line 5 “jeopardize[s] the Great Lakes” and “represents a real and credible threat to the treaty-protected fishing rights of Indigenous Peoples in the United States and Canada.”

Line 5 is just west of the Mackinac Bridge and was built in 1953 to transport oil from the tarsands in the Canadian province of Alberta to tanker ships in Lake Superior.

A diver inspects one of the Line 5 oil pipelines at the lake bottom in the Straits of Mackinac. | Photo via National Wildlife Federation

To convince local residents to accept Line 5, the company deployed salespeople to the region in the early 1950s presenting the project as “essential to the defense of the United States and the whole North American continent” amidst the Cold War.

In the decades that followed, Enbridge continuously increased the flow rate. By 2013, the corporation was pumping 540,000 barrels per day under the Straits.

The UNPFII recommends that Canada and the United States “decommission Line 5,” a spokesperson said.

The body was established in 2000 to provide advice and recommendations on Indigenous issues to the U.N. Economic and Social Council. The April 28 meeting of the UNPFII can be viewed by using this link.

“The Anishinabek are the people of the Great Lakes and never before has there been such a unified call for action for both the United States and Canada to abandon failing fossil fuel infrastructure to protect our land and water,” said Bay Mills Indian Community Ogimaakwe President Whitney Gravelle in a statement.

Members of a coalition of Anishinaabe leaders and environmental advocates attended the forum to advocate the highlighting of Line 5 as an Indigenous and human rights concern.

“Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline has already leaked at least 29 times, spilling over 4.5 million [liters] of oil. It isn’t a matter of if, but when another rupture will occur,” said Michelle Woodhouse, Water Program Manager for Environmental Defense Canada in a statement.

Cory Morse / The Grand Rapids Press via AP

“At a time when the world is facing a biodiversity, freshwater, and climate crises, it’s unconscionable for the Canadian government to gamble with the Great Lakes,” Woodhouse said.

“The Government of Canada must withdraw its use of the 1977 pipeline treaty, and work with U.S. governments and the Anishinaabeg Nations of the Great Lakes to shut down Line 5,” Woodhouse said.

Several representatives of Indigenous communities within the Great Lakes region recently submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council voicing concerns over Canada’s support for Line 5.

That report (which can be read here) was submitted for consideration under Canada’s fourth Universal Periodic Review, in which Canada’s human rights record will be reviewed and scrutinized by other U.N. member states.

Canada’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review is scheduled to take place from Nov. 6 – 17, 2023, at the U.N. Human Rights Council.


Brandon Chew is a journalist from northern Michigan.