On August 5, 2021—Manoomin (wild rice), the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and elected members of its Reservation Business Committee, certain of the Band’s members, members of other Tribes, and non-Indian citizens—filed an injunction for declaratory relief (sued) the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in the Tribal Court of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota for violating their rights. This lawsuit sought to enforce the rights of Manoomin, which were codified in Tribal law of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe back in 2018, and Chippewa Treaty Rights, in an effort to stop the State of Minnesota from allowing the Enbridge Corporation to divert five billion gallons of water for use in the construction of the contentious “Line 3” oil pipeline. The plaintiffs (Manoomin et al) argued that diverting those 5 gallons of water violates the protected rights of Manoomin, specifically Manoomin’s right to clean water and freshwater habitat, because maintaining water levels are critically important for Manoomin and all living creatures of the shared ecosystems (11). The plaintiffs (Manoomin et al) also argued that the DNR had intentionally and knowingly violated these rights, as well as the White Earth Band’s right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (11-14). The 1855 Treaty Authority of the White Earth Band notes that this is the first case brought forth in Tribal Court that seeks to enforce the rights of nature.
Following a series of appeals and motions to dismiss, on March 10, 2022, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe Court of Appeals concluded that the Tribal court lacked the jurisdiction to grant the declaratory relief originally sought by Manoomin et al; therefore, Manoomin et al’s suit against Minnesota DNR was dismissed (File No. AP21-0516, pg. 17).
The original lawsuit was filed in Tribal court (not U.S. court) on August 5th, 2021. A week later, on August 12th, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in the Tribal court, asserting that the state of Minnesota DNR had sovereign immunity and the court lacked jurisdiction over it; in other words, that they can’t be sued in Tribal court. The Tribal Court denied that motion to dismiss. Following that ruling—in an effort to prevent the lawsuit from moving forward to a hearing (and ruling) in Tribal court—the Minnesota DNR filed an appeal with the White Earth Court of Appeals on September 13, in addition to suing the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and the Chief Judge of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe Tribal Court (in lieu of being able to sue the Tribal Court itself) in U.S. federal court (Case No. 21-cv-1869). The US District Judge dismissed the Minnesota DNR’s lawsuit, holding that the state could not sue the Tribe in federal court. The Minnesota DNR appealed to the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the District Court’s ruling. On September 21, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the request.