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Filmmaker & environmental advocate's take on Line 5 pipeline project in northern Wisconsin

Minneapolis-based filmmaker and community organizer Devon Young Cupery spoke to WUWM June 4th in Ashland where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was holding a public hearing about Enbridge's proposed Line 5 reroute.
Susan Bence
Filmmaker and community advocate Devon Young Cupery spoke to WUWM June xx in Ashland where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was holding a public hearing about Enbridge's proposed Line 5 reroute.

Last week, hundreds of people gathered in northern Wisconsin to weigh in on a proposal to reroute the Line 5 pipeline operated by Enbridge. Some of the pipeline runs through the Bad River Band of Lake Chippewa tribal land. Bad River Band sued to have the pipeline removed. Now, Enbridge is proposing rerouting its line around the borders of the reservation.

One person who has been following environmental issues in the region for over a decade is Devon Young Cupery, who also attended the hearing.

The filmmaker and community organizer first got to know this region over a decade ago when she was part of a team working on a documentary. It dealt with a proposed iron mine.

“I really first got involved with that project, hearing the tribal chair at the time of the Bad River Band speak. Chair Mike Wiggins was speaking about the threats of this proposed iron mine in the Penokee Hills to the Bad River people, and I was really shaken,” Cupery says.

Wiggins outlined the risks to the headwaters that drain into the tribe’s vast wild rice beds on Lake Superior. “And I actually pitched that film topic to (Milwaukee-based) 371 Productions and we got it funded,” Cupery says. “As the producer, I got to know many people of the Bad River Band, local residents in the area on multiple sides of the issue.”

Cupery says she found a common thread among the people she interviewed.

Attending began filling the room for the public hearing in Ashland. Many project supporters wore green Support Line 5 shirts.
Susan Bence
Attending began filling the room for the public hearing in Ashland. Many Enbridge supporters wore green T-shirts.

“The people I met have so much love for this place — for the water, for Lake Superior, for the rivers and the people who live here, live here because they love it,” Cupery says.

In the case of the Bad River Band, “ It’s been their homeland since time immemorial and they can’t just find another home if their land is polluted,” Cupery says.

The experience set the course of Cupery’s career. “I have continued work in both environmental advocacy and filmmaking,” Cupery says.

She’s been following the Enbridge pipeline debate. “I’m deeply concerned based on Enbridge’s record in Minnesota,” Cupery says.

In March 2022, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported, "The DNR has completed its investigation of three aquifer breaches that occurred during the construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement Project.”’

Cupery says, "And this area here is, you could say, even more water-rich, and all the waters that this proposed reroute crosses, almost all them flow into the Bad River Band’s wild rice beds.”

Enbridge’s reroute plan here in Wisconsin proposes crossing over one hundred streams and rivers, “That all flow into this incredibly special outstanding ecosystem — sturgeon, walleye, bass — just all at risk here,” Cupery says. 

Line 5 starts in western Canada and runs through Michigan and Wisconsin, including a stretch in the Bad River reservation, on its path to eastern Canada. The pipeline covers 645 miles and dates back to 1953.

“The pipeline had originally been laid on the Bad River Reservation the ‘50s without the consent of the Bad River Band and last year a federal judge ruled that Enbridge has been in trespass of the Bad River Band,” Cupery says.

The Bad River Band and others are calling for an in-depth environmental study of Enbridge’s reroute plan.

“In fact a full environmental impact statement of the whole Line 5. This is a 70-year-old pipeline operating 20 years past its engineered life expectancy and it’s also on the brink of rupturing under the Straits of Mackinac into Lake Michigan and Lake Huron,” Cupery says.

Cupery intends to continue chronicling this and future environmental and social challenges.

“What I’ve learned in the course of documenting these stories of the people protecting their homes is, it matters to speak from your heart, people matter and it matters to respect the original peoples of this land … that’s really a guiding principle for me,” Cupery says.

Cupery grew up in Milwaukee and is now based in Minneapolis.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers extended the public's opportunity to comment on the proposed pipeline reroute through August 4, 2024.

Line 5 is operated by Enbridge, which is a financial supporter of WUWM.


Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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