Minnesota Judge Dismisses Charges Against Winona LaDuke

Media Notice


Martin Keller, Media Savant Communication

612-220-6515, mkeller@mediasavantcom.com, @mediasavant


AITKIN, MINN., — April 20, 2023 – On Tuesday, April 18, 2023, Leslie M. Metzen, Senior Judge of District Court dismissed the criminal case against Indigenous leader and activist Winona LaDuke, former Co-Executive Director and Co-Founder of Honor the Earth, for her peaceful and prayerful activities December 5, 2020, on Treaty-protected lands in Aitkin County during the construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline. The State had charged Ms. LaDuke with two counts of misdemeanor trespass, but Judge Metzen tossed both charges for “lack of probable cause.” 

Her ruling came following a hearing earlier this year at which both Ms. LaDuke and Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida testified regarding the facts of the case.  During her testimony, Ms. LaDuke broke down in tears as she recounted the events of that day, more than three years ago, when law enforcement interrupted an Anishinaabe religious ceremony at a prayer lodge by posting “no trespassing” signs around the congregants and then demanded that everyone leave.

LaDuke’s attorneys, Frank Bibeau and Climate Defense Project Staff Attorney Claire Glenn, defended her right to peacefully practice her religion inside the prayer lodge on the banks of the Mississippi River as Enbridge crews prepared to clear-cut the forest and thread the tar sand oil pipeline under the river on December 5, 2020. As Judge Metzen’s dismissal details, the defendant alleged “violations of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

“Judge Metzen’s prudent decision to dismiss these exaggerated charges against Ms. LaDuke once again illustrates that Winona’s rights to exercise her religious and First Amendment freedoms were not in any way criminal trespass,” noted Bibeau. 

Glenn added, “The charges in this case were ridiculous, and further illustrate the widespread overreach by Minnesota law enforcement – including officers from the DNR and Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office – who were incentivized by massive amounts of money to control, if not silence, public dissent to pipeline construction because of an arrangement between Enbridge and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to establish an escrow fund for policing during the building of Line 3.  The judge got it right, but only after more than three years waiting for Ms. LaDuke’s day in court.  In the meantime, law enforcement got paid and Enbridge got its pipeline.” 

In total, Enbridge paid Minnesota law enforcement more than  $8.6 million in reimbursement payments through an escrow account managed by the Public Utilities Commission.

Water Protectors Looking Forward to Successful Litigation Against the PUC and Enbridge

Aitkin County received over $355,000.00 from this Line 3 slush fund, while the DNR pulled in $2.2 million – the largest amount paid to any agency – to turn Water Protectors into criminals,” said LaDuke. “It hasn’t worked as well as they thought it would, and Judge Metzen’s decision underscores that. Plus, the state continues to inflict more taxpayer costs on poor counties like Aitkin for prosecuting protesters, the majority of whom are getting similar charges thrown out. We are looking  forward to the day when this extremely bad arrangement between the PUC and the Canadian pipeline company is also successfully litigated in court in our favor. ”

For more information – or to interview the attorneys in this decision – -please contact Martin Keller, Media Savant Communications, 612-220-6515, mkeller@mediasavantcom.com, @mediasavant

More About Judge Metzen’s Omnibus Order

According to Metzen’s Omnibus Order to drop all charges” (See attached document), “On December 5, 2020, Defendant Winona LaDuke and five other individuals were present at an Anishinaabe prayer lodge near the banks of the Mississippi River on Minnesota State Forest Land in Aitkin County, Minnesota. Also on that day, after the group was in or near the prayer lodge, signs were posted in the nearby area indicating that the area of the prayer lodge was within an “Exclusion Zone” where land clearing was to take place to facilitate the construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 Oil Pipeline Replacement Project. 

“Members of the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources approached the prayer lodge and informed Defendant and the other individuals that they were within the Exclusion Zone and needed to leave. Four of the individuals agreed to leave and were escorted off the premises. Defendant and one other individual remained at the prayer lodge and discussed with Captain Tom Provost that they were completing a religious ceremony.

“After some negotiations, Captain Provost agreed that Defendant and the other individual could continue their ceremony for 15 minutes before they would have to leave. At the conclusion of the 15 minutes, Defendant was escorted off the property and cited for Trespass – Premises of Another – Refuse to Depart in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.605, subd. 1(b)(3). A second charge of Trespass – Cross Into or Enter Public or Private Area Condoned Off by Peace Officer in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.605, subd. 1(b) was subsequently added.”