- By Sierra Clark, Contributing Writer
PETOSKEY, Mich.—A public lecture featuring transnational pipeline and energy company Enbridge last week escalated to the assault of an Anishinaabe water protector and allies protesting the controversial Line 5 project.
The event, hosted by North Central Michigan College (NCMC) in Petoskey on June 22, featured an Enbridge representative speaking about the Great Lakes Tunnel Project that would house a section of Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac.
During the lecture, the environmental protestors entered the NCMC Library Center and were confronted physically by several people attending the luncheon event.
Two videos obtained by Native News Online show protesters being shoved around and grabbed by the shirt collars as they tried to unfurl an “Enbridge Out! No Line 5” banner.
In one video, NCMC President David Roland Finley is seen struggling with a protester as he tries to rip the banner away from the protester's hands.
In a second video, provided by the NCMC, former Emmet County Commissioner Charlie MacInnis can be also seen trying to take the banner away and physically pushing protestors back toward the hallway.
MacInnis is seen later in the video grabbing protestor John Woodward by the arms and holding him back while another bystander grabs Woodward under the arms and physically shoves him into the hallway.
Woodward, 30, stated he was there as a “concerned citizen” and wanted to “demand Enbridge cease usage of Line 5 and stop the violence against Indigenous communities.”
“We showed up to practice our First Amendment rights. And people didn’t like what we were saying,” Woodward told Native News Online.
One of the Indigenous water protectors who identified himself as Kyle, said that as soon as he and other protestors entered the Library Conference Center and unfurled the banner, they were “immediately met with physical altercation.”
“Hands were put on my neck, I was shoved and tossed into the hallway,” said Kyle, a resident of Kalamazoo who asked to keep his identity anonymous for “fear of his safety.”
He told Native News that his prescription glasses were also ripped off his face and thrown to the ground. “I’m not sure who it was, because everything happened so quickly … I feared for my safety,” Kyle said. He suffered a bruise and fingernail marks on his arm, as well as a bloody gash to his forehead.
“I attended to partake in Indigenous responsibilities to help protect the water,” Kyle said, “Enbridge uses these events to lie to the public about the risks of the pipeline.
The event was part of NCMC’s Luncheon Lecture Series which regularly brings in professionals from different fields to discuss their work. A flier for the event states the luncheon was an “overview of the planned Great Lakes Tunnel Project beneath the Straits of Mackinac” presented by Paul Meneghini, director of community engagement for Enbridge for its Great Lakes region.
Woodward refuted claims from Enbridge that its pipelines provide "an alternative source of safe energy," instead stating the disastrous environmental and social consequences of continued pipeline construction, citing disasters such as the Kalamazoo eruption in 2010.
“The event held by NCMC was intended to increase support for the construction of a tunnel that was mandated to cease by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020,” Woodward said. “Enbridge still has yet to comply with the governor's order and continues to operate the seventy-year-old Line 5 under the straits.”
Line 5 transports crude oil and natural gas liquids across the U.S.-Canada border and under culturally significant Straits of Mackinac for the Anishinaabek. The project has been met with opposition for years. Recently, 51 different tribes, including all 12 federally recognized sovereign nations in Michigan signed a submitted report to the United Nations Human Rights Council. This report, dated April 4, claims that the Government of Canada is violating the human rights of Indigenous peoples through its continuous support for Line 5.
Carol Laene, vice president of marketing and strategy for NCMC, wrote in a statement, “the college personnel and attendees worked to minimize the disruption by removing the banners and notifying Petoskey Public Safety, who arrived promptly on the scene. Also on the scene was a member of the Tribal Police who assisted Petoskey Public Safety.”
Laenen went on to write that the protestors were “trespassers” at the public college, “who had not registered for the event.”
Woodward stated that he did register for the event and was put on a waiting list. A copy of the registration confirmation was sent by Woodward to Native News Online.
Laenen wrote the video shared with Native News Online by NCMC “clearly demonstrates there was no evidence of physical violence leading to anyone being bloody and bruised.”
Additional videos and photos obtained by Native News Online show something different, including bruises and cuts that protesters received from the altercation.
Michigan Attorney Holly Bird, descendant of the San Felipe Pueblo Perepucha/ Yaqui/ Apache nations, is legally advising Kyle and other water protectors and protesters who were at the event.
“You often don’t hear of public colleges that do not allow citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Bird said, “especially with the vigor in which they (NCMC) did it, I am shocked and appalled.”
Petoskey Police Department reportedly were on the scene after the scuffle and issued a trespassing warning to the protesters shortly after they left the campus.
The Petoskey Public Safety did not respond to requests for comment by Native News Online.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been updated to correct the number of videos obtained by Native News Online, which was sent two copies of the same video from different sources.
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