Taylor receives the $3.6 million in checks from Trent Wetmore, Enbridge Director of Operations for Superior Region

In a historic day for Lac Courte Oreilles, Enbridge Energy Partners presented the tribal council with their first payment of $3.6 million on Friday, October 27, but some tribal members weren’t happy and came to the tribe’s General Membership Meeting in protest on Saturday morning.

“it’s been a long process involving LCO’s legal, environmental, emergency management and historic preservation teams along with the tribal council with the intention to provide for our membership,” said LCO Secretary-Treasurer Jason Weaver. “The annual payments and a long-term relationship with Enbridge will be beneficial for our tribe well into the future.”

LCO Tribal Attorney, Dyllan Linehan, said with this agreement, “We’ll make the largest push for infrastructure the tribe has ever had.” He added that along with infrastructure, there would be a huge boost to social services provided to the membership.

Weaver said the tribe’s wastewater treatment facility would be the first major project at a cost of $5.5 million. He said the tribe’s share would be about $3 million with grants covering the rest.

“This wastewater treatment project provides expansion of any other projects like the school or a health care facility in the future,” Weaver said. “Before we can move on with those projects, we need to finish the facility.”

Weaver also said the tribal council has been in discussion to give the residents of the Signor community a new water system with the money provided by the Enbridge deal. He said several options are being discussed. The Signor community has struggled with poor water quality for decades and Weaver said the homes were built in a wetland where the water table is too high.

“The community church right down the road from Signor has great water, so we may look into building a water system outside the community,” Weaver said.

from L-R) Trent Wetmore, Jason Weaver, Dyllan Linehan, Louis Taylor, Tweed Shuman and April Holdren, Enbridge Manager of Community Engagement.

Several tribal members showed up at the tribe’s General Membership Meeting on Saturday to express their opposition to the pipeline. The most common theme from the opposition is that they weren’t given a referendum vote on whether to approve the deal with Enbridge or refuse renewal of the easement, while others said they are concerned about a leak of the pipeline contaminating the water supply into the reservation.

Tribal member Darren Kagigebi said on the tribe’s Facebook page, “We can only hope that our leaders stay on top of the environmental impact/protection on and off the reservation, also I hope the money LCO receives is used to achieve our very own green initiative, solar and wind farms.”

The tribe issued a statement on Friday, “The new easement agreement contains heightened environmental protections, which the tribe specifically negotiated for, and acknowledges the tribes ability as a sovereign to regulate and tax corporations doing business within the exterior boundaries of the reservation. This funding will help the tribe to address greatly needed infrastructure improvements and help to provide benefits to tribal citizens.”

Chairman Louis Taylor told the membership every 5 years the tribe will receive $100,000 from Enbridge as part of the deal to hire an engineer to inspect the 3.4-mile line through the reservation. 

“In the original deal in 1968, our tribe got nothing out of it,” Taylor said. “Now we have control and we have guarantees on safety and environmental concerns.”

Ideas discussed at meeting

About 200 members attended a General Membership Meeting of the tribe on Saturday, October 28, while another 2,000 people viewed the meeting on a Facebook livestream. A portion of the meeting was held to discuss ideas for what the tribe should do with the money received in the easement deal.

“All employees should have fair wages in comparison to state and regional pay,” tribal member Cathy Begay said. “We need to create more jobs for our people. And we need a boost to transportation. We have a lot of young people who need jobs but they need help with transportation too.”

Chairman Louis Taylor said he too believes money needs to be invested in business development on the reservation to make more money and create more jobs.

“We have 8,000 members and our businesses are struggling. We can’t survive on the casino,” Taylor said. “We have to think of our kids and their future and that’s why we as a council have to keep looking at ways to bring in more money.”

Bodie LaRush asked Taylor if the council considered setting up a planning commission to oversee and help decide how the Enbridge money should be spent. Taylor agreed that was a good idea.

Jason Weaver said money should be invested into the communities, such as renovating and building new playgrounds. 

Jason Schlender, LCO Vice Chairman, said there are plans underway to renovate the ball fields by the casino. “We have Jake Trepanier who wants to revive softball on the Rez, so we want to make a state-of-the-art ball field with lighting at the fields, so that we can attract Hayward teams out to our facilities.”

Schlender also said they are planning a new playground at the ball fields.

Melody Fleming said the homelessness problem on the Rez needs to be addressed.

“You drive around the Rez and you see so many boarded up houses while we have this homelessness problem,” Fleming said. 

Fleming asked the council what the status of the Hideout was. Weaver said the facilities are in bad shape. 

“The original home can be salvaged but the building where the restaurant was, it’s a huge place but it’s dilapidated, and it’s not like we remember it. The roof needs to be replaced. It will need to be torn down except for the original walls,” Weaver said.

Rose Barber told the meeting she supported the decision to renew the pipeline easement. 

“Why not put more money into our youth’s education. Let’s help them get educated and come back here with their knowledge,” Barber said.

A letter from Enbridge

After presenting the payment to the tribal governing board on Friday, Trent Wetmore, Director of Operations for Enbridge’s Superior Region, said Enbridge wants to build an ongoing relationship with the tribe.

“To see how far we’ve come in the past 12 months in our relationship with the tribe and to see what we can do in the next 25 years, it’s absolutely historic,” Wetmore said. “We are neighbors and we are willing to work with our partners. Over the past, the people at LCO haven’t known we were there and we need to better advocate on what it is we do and why we do it.”

Weaver said the tribe is looking forward to a great partnership and relationship with Enbridge going forward.

“Just because this deal is done, our work together doesn’t stop,” Weaver said.

Wetmore sent a letter to the membership at Saturday’s meeting;

A little over a year ago my team and I approached the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board and asked for an opportunity to negotiate an easement renewal for the two lines that cross your reservation. We knew that our history and relationship with LCO were not as strong as they should be. We knew we had work to do.

We committed to doing better. We committed to being truly transparent about how we operate our entire pipeline system and how to communicate. We recognized that we needed to be better educated about LCO, about treaty rights and tribal sovereignty, and about everything in between.

Reaching a new agreement is a beginning and commits us to provide a significant compensation to LCO. Your land is your most important resource. We will respect it and we should compensate you well when we are given the right to use it. I am thankful and honored that we were able to reach the agreement we did. But I am especially thankful that we were also able to agree on how we will work together moving forward.

Already, we are working together to provide project management assistance and training to members on important infrastructure projects like the wastewater treatment plant. This experience will build capacity to undertake additional major projects, such as renewable energy and other infrastructure projects that you have made clear are important to the Tribe.

We are also working together on emergency preparedness and training. Our recent tabletop exercise in Hayward is one example. These types of exercises and others will continue on a consistent basis in the future. Too often industry has shied away from working with Tribes on the things that matter most. As far as I am concerned, those days are over.

Under the new agreement, we are also supporting LCO Development Corporation and other tribally-owned businesses to help them get pre-qualified to meet Enbridge contractor requirements. We want those businesses to work on our projects. We want to contribute to the Band’s economic development and good things are happening.

These are all positive developments, but they will mean nothing if you and your fellow tribal members cannot rest assured of our commitment to pipeline integrity and safety and to protect the Tribe’s critically important natural and cultural resources. We have provided safety assurances to you about how we operate our pipelines and how we will work to protect natural resources on Tribal lands – be they on reservation or in ceded territory. We know it is a privilege to operate our pipelines on your lands, and we will continue to demonstrate this commitment. I know these are just my words and that we will be judged on our actions. We intent to rise to this challenge. Times have changed. They needed to and we consider the Lac Courte Oreilles to be a critical partner.

As with any partnership, trust is everything. We welcome the tough questions and challenges – for too long the tribal government and members have not had opportunities to ask questions of us face-to-face. We will provide real opportunities for tribal members to meet and talk with us, tour our facilities, and learn more about who we are. I hope in time, the members of LCO will also share more with us so that we can strengthen our understanding of your values, cultural identity and sense of place.

We have been safely operating and maintaining our pipelines on LCO lands for many years and we are excited to demonstrate our commitment to a new relationship, and if we do it right, a new partnership with the Band. During the negotiations we got to know members of the community, we gained a better understanding of their concerns and began, in some small way, to demonstrate what kind of company we are and how we operate. We will be partners with LCO for many years and I believe this agreement forms a solid foundation on which we can truly build a relationship based on mutual respect and trust.

We are proud of what we have accomplished and shared with LCO in the past year, yet recognize it is only the beginning. We have much work to do to demonstrate that this last year was in fact more than Enbridge just trying to get a deal signed. Trusting relationships take time to build. They move at the speed of trust. We understand that and you have my word that we will honor every word in our agreement.

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