Native American Rights Fund and Earthjustice join the Bay Mills Indian Community to Fight Against Oil Pipeline

Pro bono attorneys team up with an Indian community to fight plan to protect oil and harm communities


Liz Trotter, Earthjustice, (305) 332-5395

Today Earthjustice and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) teamed up with the Bay Mills Indian Community to fight a proposed oil pipeline tunnel, which would threaten communities, local businesses, and the environment. This area previously experienced the largest inland oil spill in 2010 by Enbridge in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, which resulted in nearly 1 million gallons of oil being released into Michigan’s waterways. Enbridge is claiming the tunnel would encapsulate the Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, purportedly to prevent another oil spill. 

On behalf of Bay Mills Indian Community, Earthjustice and NARF attorneys filed a Petition to Intervene to participate as a party in the Enbridge Line 5 Tunnel Project proceedings before the Michigan Public Service Commission. They also will submit comments, on behalf of Bay Mills, opposing Enbridge’s request to issue a ruling. The oil giant is claiming that, due to the original 1953 Easement under the Great Lakes, the project can now skirt any additional review by the Commission — including any review of environmental impacts. The public is able to submit comments on the request for declaratory ruling till May 13, 2020. 

“Bay Mills consistently has voiced its concerns about the continued operation of Line 5 through the Straits of Mackinac and across other ceded territory in Michigan where it holds treaty-protected rights,” said Gussie Lord, Director of Tribal Partnerships at Earthjustice. “We are pleased to expand our presence in the Midwest and stand with Bay Mills in defense of the Great Lakes — the largest freshwater system in the world — and the incredible and complex ecosystems that have sustained the Anishinaabe people for generations.” 

“With their application to move a section of the Line 5 pipeline to a tunnel dug under the Straits of Mackinac, Enbridge proposes a significant project that could have extreme impacts on the area’s waterways and wildlife,” NARF Staff Attorney David Gover explained. “The Bay Mills Indian Community relies heavily on fishing in the area, and the tribe has a treaty-protected right and a responsibility to keep the region’s fisheries healthy and available to tribal citizens. Over the years, the tribe has consistently fought to protect their fishing and hunting rights. Today’s filing continues that fight. The Native American Rights Fund is proud to stand with the Nation to ensure that the Bay Mills Community’s fishing lifeways and tribal homelands are adequately protected for generations to come.”

“It is extremely important for Bay Mills Indian Community to take up this battle against Enbridge” explained Whitney Gravelle, In-House Counsel for Bay Mills Indian Community. “Since time immemorial, the Great Lakes have been an integral part of Bay Mills’ way of life, and they will continue to be an integral part of tribal culture, tradition, and economy for many generations to come. By failing to consider the dangers Line 5 poses to treaty-fishing rights, cultures, and traditions of the Anishinaabe, we risk killing the heart of Turtle Island, the heart of North America.” 

NARF has provided specialized legal assistance to Indian tribes, organizations, and individuals nationwide since 1970. NARF works in such critical areas as tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, natural resource protection, voting rights, and Indian education.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has attempted to roll back health, safety, and environmental regulations to advance corporate and polluter interests. In response, Earthjustice has filed more than 130 lawsuits to aggressively defend the protections that make our environment healthier and our communities safer. The federal courts have been handing the Trump administration one loss after another, ruling that the administration cannot flout the requirements of existing environmental laws.


Workers using suction hoses try to clean up an oil spill of approximately 800,000 gallons of crude oil from the Kalamazoo River July 28, 2010 in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Workers try to clean up an oil spill of approximately 800,000 gallons of crude oil from the Kalamazoo River on July 28, 2010 in Battle Creek, Mich. A 30 inch-wide underground pipeline owned by Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Energy Partners LP, began leaking on June 26. (Bill Pugliano / Getty Images)

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.