Prosecutor Drops Remaining Charge Against Winona LaDuke in Shell River Seven Case



Dismissal of LaDuke’s Criminal Case Follows Weeks of Major Legal Victories for Water Protector Defendants in Aitkin, Clearwater, and Pennington Counties   



On Thursday, May 4, 2023, a Wadena County prosecutor dismissed the last remaining misdemeanor charge in the criminal case against the co-founder and former Executive Director of Honor the Earth, Winona LaDuke, for her role in the “Shell River Seven” protest in July 2021.  

The “Shell River Seven” were prosecuted for peacefully standing up against the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline in July 2021, which crossed the river and many other waterways through 1855 Treaty Territory.  As Enbridge crews drilled under the Shell River, LaDuke and five other women sat in lawn chairs on the banks of the river, chained to one another in protest of the threats posed by construction, which occurred during a period of extreme drought and threatened endangered mussels and  other river life, critical drinking water, and the sovereign treaty-reserved rights of Anishinaabe people. 

The six women and an independent photojournalist were arrested and identically charged with two counts of gross misdemeanor trespass and one count of misdemeanor obstruction, and pleaded not guilty.  LaDuke  spent 3 days behind bars after the arrest (her co-defendants spent 2), and wrote a Letter from the Wadena County jail

The Shell River Seven event was memorialized in a music video documentary based on a song by Steve Van Zandt, sung by Jackson Brown.

The charges against LaDuke’s six co-defendants were dismissed in October and November 2022, but the County Attorney continued to pursue charges against LaDuke, prompting criticism that she was being targeted for her high-profile leadership prior to and during Line 3 construction.  She was the only Anishinaabe member of the Shell River 7, as well as the Guardian ad litem of the river, as appointed by the White Earth Nation. 


As the last remaining Shell River Seven defendant, LaDuke was scheduled to go to trial in June in Wadena.  Nearly two years after the incident, the Wadena County prosecutor has finally dismissed the case, which follows a spate of other recent Line 3 Water Protector legal victories in April:

  • In Aitkin County, several Line 3 Water Protector cases have been dismissed in the past two weeks, including a similar case involving two trespass charges against LaDuke which was dismissed by the Court for lack of probable cause. 
  • On Tuesday, April 25, 2023, Clearwater County dismissed all charges against  10 remaining defendants cited for trespass after engaging in a ceremonial treaty encampment known as Fire Light. This Anishinaabe-led encampment blocked construction for eight consecutive days at the upstream Mississippi River drill site of Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in June of 2021. 
  • Of the hundreds of people who participated in the Fire Light Encampment, 51 were arrested. Native defendants were transferred into the jurisdiction of White Earth Tribal Court and subsequently had their charges dismissed for lawfully exercising Treaty-reserved rights and acting within Rights of Manoomin statutes codified by the White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians. See this press release and press conference for details.
  • On Thursday, April 27, 2023, a Pennington County jury found a Line 3 Water Protector defendant not guilty following a two-day trial on criminal allegations of misdemeanor obstruction.

State Officials Owe LaDuke and Fellow Water Protectors An Apology


“Minnesota’s elected officials – from the Governor and Attorney General, state agency heads and legislators on down to local prosecutors – should take note:  Prosecuting Line 3 Water Protectors has been an egregious waste of state resources.  In a time of so much need, it is shameful that our government would target and criminalize those working to protect all of us, and our precious waters, from the greed of a fossil fuel corporation,” states Climate Defense Project Staff Attorney Claire Glenn, who defended LaDuke, along with Frank Bibeau, White Earth Nation attorney. “The State owes Ms. LaDuke  and the hundreds of other Line 3 Water Protector defendants an apology.”

Clearly the state was out to make an example of Winona, until it decided it wouldn’t, or couldn’t,” adds Bibeau. “We are celebrating yet another victory for those who protect our lands and waters where the Anishinabek have Treaty-protected rights.”We are looking forward to a good day just like today when the slush fund arrangement between the Minnesota Public Utilities commission (PUC) and the Canadian pipeline company is successfully litigated in court in our favor,” LaDuke explained. “Wadena  County received over $150,000 from this Line 3 fund, while Enbridge paid Minnesota law enforcement more than $8.6 million in total compensation which incentivized police to turn peaceful Water Protectors into criminals. The legal process is proving that the state’s strategy hasn’t worked as planned.”