The sounds of waves lapping the shore line, water trickling over river stones, and children laughing as they splash and play provide audio backdrop to a soothing voice extolling the virtues of protecting the fresh waters of the Great Lakes. That reassuring voice proceeds to present Enbridge, Inc. as altruistic caretaker of our shared fresh waters. The advertisement takes care not to mention how their Line 5 oil pipeline is now 70 years old, well past the projected life expectancy of 50 years, and has leaked over 1 million gallons of oil along the its 645 miles. The message instead is focused on the good will and trustworthiness of Enbridge as environmental steward and champion, with the proffered proof being the Canadian oil giant’s proposed tunnel project designed primarily to keep the profits flowing in the short-term.
Nor is it made clear that their 70 year old oil pipeline is currently operating without approved easements, in trespass on Michigan and tribal lands. Certainly, the radio spot fails to address how the proposed concrete tunnel underneath the bedrock of Michigan’s waters has yet to answer to dangerous flaws in the engineering plans, the shortcuts taken with geologic surveys, or the admitted slurry pollution stew such a project would spew into the Great Lakes. Instead, the captive audience to Enbridge’s millions in propaganda spending is expected to rest assured that over 23 millions of gallons of oil daily running underneath the meeting of Lakes Huron and Michigan, right beside the iconic Mackinac Bridge, is nothing to worry about because Enbridge has a plan that will above all else keep the oil and their own profits flowing.
I learned about this radio advertisement from my daughter, who was at the thrift store on half-off day looking for affordable Winter clothing. Like so many everyday Americans, she and her fellow shoppers were focused on their personal economic struggle, and therefore not likely to interrogate a radio ad that essentially is offering a mental break of “nothing to see here, nothing to worry about, this is all taken care of.” Indeed, she had initially thought that the radio ad was the work of an actual environmental advocacy organization like Clean Water Action. So convincingly does Enbridge endeavor to gaslight an unsuspecting audience into viewing their corporation as the Water Protectors, that the actual grassroots struggle to defend the water becomes recast as spoilers of sustainability. Enbridge’s strategy to appropriate the language of environmental activist movements is all the more egregious for how purposefully this is intended to co-opt the power of Indigenous-led resistance to instead serve their profits-over-people agenda that makes a mockery of tribal sovereignty and cultural survival.
Every day the Canadian corporate behemoth Enbridge pushes Line 5 oil across 645 miles of Michigan lands, crossing numerous waterways including underneath the heart of the Great Lakes at the Straits of Mackinac, is another day of potential catastrophe. Yet, this also means we have a daily opportunity to set the record straight by learning the facts and extolling them whenever the occasion arises. Enbridge invests millions of dollars in their public relations con game. They put people of color on billboards, while fossil fuel interests precipitate the daily poisoning and harassment of frontline communities. They extol the virtues of job creation, while doing everything they can to maneuver out of hiring local union labor and simultaneously endangering tourism and fishing economies. They claim to align with Anishinaabe communities, while ignoring the demands of both Bad River tribe in Wisconsin and Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan to get off tribal lands. They target Great Lakes communities with the reassuring language of a caring big brother, while ignoring the behest of Michigan’s duly elected Governor and Attorney General to cease and desist endangering the public trust waters, economic viability, and quality of life that Michigan voters and residents count on our governmental public servants to protect.
An elder from the Quaker community recently lamented to me that she feels like she is not able to stand up against Enbridge, as her physical limitations prevent her from attending protests and rallies. When I mentioned the importance of Letters to the Editor, she said she did not see herself as a great writer. I then noted that even if she just tells one person one true thing about Line 5 that the person did not know before, that is incredibly valuable, because then the person can do the same. To this, she readily agreed, and gladly accepted this new view of herself as an activist.
So, the next time you see or hear one of Enbridge’s slick advertisements, don't be shy about setting the record straight with the facts about Line 5, the flawed tunnel project, and the truth about Enbridge as a self-serving corporation operating illegally on State and tribal lands, with a terrible track record of oil spills, short-cuts, and poor to no accountability. You may even find yourself turning to the person next to you in a thrift store, saying “they’re lying,” and experiencing this crucial truth: that for all their millions of dollars, Enbridge will never be able to match the latent people power we can all help unleash. Side by side, facing the truth, and uniting in our shared responsibility to Shut Down Line 5: one fact-check at a time.