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Water Protector Shanai Matteson is Acquitted

Aitkin Age

Artist and Water Protector Shanai Mattesonof Palisade, MN hoped her charges in Aitkin County Court of gross misdemeanor for allegedly conspiring, aiding, and abetting critical public infrastructure pipeline would be dropped.

They were.

On July 14th, 2022 District Court Judge Leslie May Metzen acquitted Matteson based on insufficient evidence.

We talked to Matteson before she went to court. She told us that the facebook video from theWater Protector Welcome Center in January of 2021 in response to Enbridge Energy's construction of line 3 was used for evidence. "I spoke about the importance of standing together in solidarity with our waters and with Anishinaabe people who are struggling for their treaty rights to be recognized."

Shanai Matteson_0711222.mp3

Matteson believes she was unfairly targeted by Aitkin County law enforcement through surveillance paid for by Enbridge Energy.

Many news sources like the Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio,The Guardian, and the Brennan Center for Justice have reported on the building of Line 3 and the relationship of corporations and law enforcement.

When we spoke with Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida in February of 2021 he said there was not direct payment from Enbridge.

"The PUCin the statement of needs put documents in there to say that Enbridge would be responsible for that cost. Enbridge doesn't direct pay us that money goes into a fund that's managed by the state or the person that the state hired, and that person would reimburse us for this."

The Guardian's reporting tells a different story:
It’s common for protesters opposing pipeline construction to face private security hired by companies, as they did during demonstrations against the Dakota Access pipeline. But in Minnesota, a financial agreement with a foreign company has given public police forces an incentive to arrest demonstrators.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which regulates pipelines, decided rural police should not have to pay for increased strain from Line 3 protests. As a condition of granting Line 3 permits, the commission required Enbridge to set up an escrow account to reimburse police for responding to demonstrations.

Enbridge told the Guardian an independent account manager allocates the funds, and police decide when protesters are breaking the law. But records obtained by the Guardian show the company meets daily with police to discuss intelligence gathering and patrols. And when Enbridge wants protesters removed, it calls police or sends letters.

Shanai Matteson maintains that her trial for protesting Enbridge's Line 3 has greater significance. "We use social media to speak about things that we care about, and in my case, social media was used by law enforcement to surveil me and then bring criminal charges for simply making a speech."

Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida told Minnesota Public Radio
"She was asking people to hold space and encourage them to get arrested - and, in that scenario, we kind of believe that you're instigating those people getting arrested."

The work and legal battles of water protectors are not over because Matteson was acquitted in a court of law. She described this moment as a crisis: of climate, Indigenous rights, women's rights and the right to peacefully protest. "I'm just one of 800 people who received charges in the past couple of years for other movement-related actions."

Sadie Luetmer
Welcome Water Protectors

Defendants in the Stop Line 3 movement have created

Drop Line 3 Charges for water protectors in similar situations.

To hear more Water Protectors stories, you can listen to our Strong Women conversation with Shanai Matteson and Tania Aubid from February of 2021 here.

Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.