Jane Fonda tells us why she’s still being harassed by the police

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Jane Fonda (center) with two Ojibwe singers on March 15, 2021.
  • Construction of the Line 3 pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada, has been underway in Minnesota.
  • The pipeline would cut through Ojibwe lands and, they say, threaten their water and way of life.
  • Insider talked to Jane Fonda as she brought her celebrity and activism to the Ojibwe fight.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Last week, Jane Fonda -- the iconic award-winning actor and lifelong activist -- was travelling through the backroads of northern Minnesota to protest a proposed pipeline that would cut through Ojibwe territory, when she and her companions were stopped by police.

The white trooper from the Minnesota State Patrol said they had failed to flick on the car's blinker soon enough before a turn. Fonda, newly vaccinated against Covid-19, was having none of it. "It was very clear the point was to make us miss the press conference," she said to me over the phone the following morning.

The trooper kept Fonda and her group for 20 minutes before allowing them to continue on their journey, and then they tailed close behind for the rest of the drive, she said.

"If this were my life, day after day, multiple times a day, I would be so angry," Fonda fumed. "It's stressful to feel like you're constantly being surveilled and harassed and arrested for nothing."

A state patrol spokesperson declined to comment about the incident.

Fonda is no stranger to run-ins with the badge. She's been protesting since the 1960s and has been arrested five times. She traveled to northern Minnesota for an afternoon rally to protest a proposed pipeline expansion that would bring crude oil from Canada's tar sands and cut through protected Anishinaabe treaty territory. The Ojibwe say the Line 3 project threatens the water, the wild rice, and the area's ancient way of life.

A few days before Fonda arrived, there was a rumor she was going to stroll onto the easement and risk arrest with the rest of the frontline water protectors. That didn't happen, but activists say her presence was helpful in bringing attention to their cause.

Since the Line 3 was proposed in 2014, it has been met with delay after delay due to the intrepid actions of the local water protectors.

Several times a month, the protectors tie themselves to machinery and lock themselves inside the pipeline, or suspend themselves from trees. In 2018, after the Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved the pipeline, they established an undisclosed resistance camp. Last summer, three white men trespassed onto the property, one with an American flag draped over his shoulder.

Enbridge, the Canadian-based company that owns Line 3, declined to answer questions from Insider, but they said in an email, "We respect peaceful protest, and recognize there are many opinions about the energy we all use."

As for Fonda, she said she admires the diligence and daring work of the Ojibwe and of the water proctors.

"It's been the same throughout history," she said. "It takes people power. It takes strength in numbers. Right now, it's going to take unprecedented numbers of people who have risen up and organized to pressure the government to do what's right."

"I'LL BET MY LIFE ON IT"

Ojibwe lands stretch throughout Minnesota and extend into Canada. Its leaders say Line 3 would violate the treaties of 1854 and 1855, particularly the sections that grant the Ojibwe the rights to hunt, fish, gather, and harvest.

If completed, Line 3 would pump more than 750,000 barrels of tar sands crude oil, which has some of the worst carcinogens known to man, across wetlands and fragile ecosystems in Canada, Minnesota, and Wisconsin each day. Enbridge says the project that it will create thousands of jobs and provide energy savings to consumers.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, a Democrat, has steadfastly supported the project. President Joe Biden, who revoked the permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline on his first day in office, has yet to voice a position on Line 3.

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From left, Tara Houska, Jane Fonda, and environmentalist and writer Winona LaDuke

The event Fonda and her crew were driving to was held on the banks of the Mississippi River, in a remote, wooded area just yards from where the pipeline is being built. The sound of earthmovers and sudden loud bangs echoed throughout the forest. Sheriffs and pipeline security had parked their cruisers and trucks close by.

Around 150 Ojibwe, elders, white allies, and elder white allies were on site, clad in red, hoisting signs that read, "PROTECT THE WATER" and "STOP KILLING OUR LANDS."

"This is a crime!" Fonda shouted to the crowd from the mic, some snapping in approbation while others nodded and bellowed. "From a global climate crisis perspective, this is criminal. From a tribal justice, tribal rights point of view, this is criminal."

"Line 3 is not going to be completed. I will bet my life on it," she said.

Next to Fonda sat Tara Houska, an Ojibwe and tribal attorney. The two were arrested together in January 2020 in Washington, D.C., along with Joaquin Phoenix, during a Fire Drill Friday protest. Fonda started the weekly demonstrations to raise awareness of the climate crisis, and the events have since moved online due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

"We were here before (the state) of Minnesota, since before the United States," Houska said to the crowd. "We deserve to have a future, and our children deserve to have a future."

Specifically, "our wild rice matters," she said. Wild rice is a cultural and spiritual linchpin to the Ojibwe; it's the livelihood of the people, and Line 3 threatens the health and cleanliness of the water from which it stems.

Houska, one of the leaders of the resistance camp, is easy to spot by her two distinctive long, black braids that stop just shy of her thighs. Oil workers tail her as she leaves actions and even the grocery store, she said, calling them desperate intimidation tactics meant to deter her from her work to stop the pipeline. (Enbridge and local police declined to offer comment.)

She said surveillance is near-constant, and that helicopters fly as low as the treeline above their camp. "We are fighting for our future -- the youth are fighting for their futures quite literally with their bodies," she added.

Houska is facing three misdemeanor charges for trespassing, unlawful assembly, and presence at an unlawful assembly for leading protests against Line 3.

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Actress and activist Jane Fonda being arrested during a climate protest in 2019 in Washington, DC.

Referring to the intimidation tactics that Houska and other activists face, Fonda was incredulous, and noted that this was happening in the same state where Derek Chauvin is due to stand trial for the murder of George Floyd. "It's amazing that the state of Minnesota, with the world watching the Chauvin trial and what that trial represents, are also allowing the kind of demonizing and harassment and brutalization of people of color, of indigenous people up here."

Along with Fonda, celebrities with massive reach, including Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio, have rallied to shine a light on the Indigenous-led fight against pipelines, including Line 3. And then there's Jewel, the Alaska-raised, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, who was adopted by an Indigenous family when she was a kid and later founded the group Project Clean Water.

As a young girl, Jewel used to live off the land, haul water, and drink straight from a pristine creek near her home. She said it's high-time people listen to Indigenous peoples, the original stewards of the land.

"I think that our Indigenous brothers and sisters have not been separated from the land, they still have that relationship to the land; they know everything is living, everything has a voice. And as white people I think that's a very foreign concept," she told Insider in a telephone interview.

"Stop Line 3," she said before hanging up the phone.

Back at the Mississippi River, the temperature was 20-degrees and getting colder as the daylight faded. Grandmothers sat in folding chairs as young men tended to the fires nearby.

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Tara Houska after the rally, during an encounter with the Wadena County Sheriffs department.

Fonda bumped elbows and posed for photos with the crowd who wanted to thank her for coming all this way. A drum group of four Ojibwe men began singing. Fonda, who was standing close by, stopped and listened to a song sung in a language she did not know, one that was born in the very place she was standing.

Once Fonda departed, Houska led a group to the pipeline site. Twice, sheriffs roared towards them in their cruisers, splattering mud and stopping just feet in front of them.

"You know, we're not just fighting for our water. We're fighting for your water, too," she said, before calmly leading the group back towards the Mississippi.

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