For Native tribes in the United States, a pipeline is not a source of energy, but a serpent slithering across long-pillaged ancestral lands. The ancient Lakota prophecy of a black snake desecrating sacred sites materializes today in steel pipes transporting fossil fuels for billion-dollar corporations, breaking federal treaties and threatening life on Earth.
At the US-Canada border, new construction on a 1,000-mile tar sands pipeline has reinvigorated the Indigenous-led movement for climate justice and land repatriation, this time on Anishinaabe territory in Minnesota. The rerouting of Line 3 — built in 1968 by Canadian multinational Enbridge — introduced new damage to groundwater aquifers and chemical spills around the Mississippi River, adding to the 24 leaks since installation and major oil spill in 1991. Protests by water protectors and environmental organizations point to Enbridge’s history of shoddy, expensive cleanup jobs and the corporation’s trespassing, along with government forces, on tribal lands from Alberta to Wisconsin.
Since November 2020, the Stop Line 3 movement has grown into a broad coalition of climate activists promoting their actions through open-access artworks that are repurposed for posters, banners, and flags. Dozens of designs, paintings, illustrations, and zines raise awareness of Indigenous struggles and the biodiversity threatened by continued resource extraction. Throughout 2021, artist groups like Onaman Collective, Resist Line 3, NDN Collective and Stop the Money Pipeline, and JustSeeds published copyright-free art for public distribution, stipulating that corporations are forbidden from use and no one can sell them for profit.
Line 3 breaks with the 1855 Treaty with the Chippewa that reduced Anishinaabe land to a small fraction of northern Minnesota. This territory has since become a site of construction and upheaval, leading Indigenous artists to portray the wildlife at risk. Ojibwe and Michif artists Isaac Murdoch and Christi Belcourt incorporate buffalo, bears, fish, and birds with glowing hearts into posters demanding protection. Red eagles spread their wings, which are dripping blood, while images of winged tribal mothers honor the shared maternal instinct among species.
As activists chain themselves to pipes and block major roads, Milwaukee-based artist Susan Simensky Bietila illustrates them laying their bodies on the line. Bietila depicts canoers stringing signs above the Great Lakes in her signature black-and-white style, which draws from radical woodcuts and lithography from the early 20th century. Another work shows protestors marching with large artworks and banners, including one that reads “Cut the head off the black snake.”
Enbridge-funded police forces have attacked and arrested hundreds of water protectors, many of whom are still in jail. Stop Line 3 activists are now calling on government officials to drop the trumped-up charges against them. A poster designed by Minneapolis-based artist Dio Cramer connects Line 3 with the prison-industrial complex, portraying a black snake with a body composed of chains. For Cramer, who maintains the Resist Line 3 archive, these works are made out of necessity and demonstrate the value of printmaking for mass production.
“We believe in the power of handmade art and have put our love, sweat, and tears into doing nearly everything by hand,” Cramer told Hyperallergic. “Most things we give away for free, but I have done a few fundraisers, primarily with t-shirts, and raised over $10,000 for frontline groups leading the movement.”
Looming over each piece is the climate crisis accelerated by new pipeline construction, and artists draw attention to animals directly affected by climate change. JustSeeds artist Andrea Lomanto aligns the stars of Ursa Major, which was first identified by the Wampanoag people, on a large black bear ripping a snake in two. One simple yet effective painting by Sasha Hill depicts a loon, an Indigenous symbol of guardianship and Minnesota’s state bird, floating on a lake at sunset. The colors of the sky and sea evoke nostalgia and serenity, yet the bird’s averted gaze and rigid posture hint at a danger seemingly just out of the frame.
Other works highlight solidarity between Black and Indigenous feminists. Bloody handprints appear over women’s mouths in Tamara Tornado’s neon graphic designs, which focus on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement (MMIW). New York-based artist Crystal Clarity portrays a Black woman embracing the Earth with a dove on her shoulder and a broken pipeline leaking cash into the abyss below. The image brings to mind the 1977 Combahee River Collective Statement, which argues that Black women’s freedom would “necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”
One of Stop Line 3’s most ubiquitous motifs is a bald eagle hunting the black snake. In one provocative poster, Cramer uses sharp crimson lines to draw the eye to the talons breaking skin, perhaps symbolizing the moment dissent pierces the oppressor. Stripped of all patriotic connotations, the massive red predator bears down over its puny prey, embodying the many who make up the movement against a poisonous few.