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U.S. Border Officials Investigating Use Of Low-Flying Helicopter For Dispersal At Enbridge Pipeline Protests

MINNEAPOLIS (CNN/WCCO) -- U.S. Customs and Border Protection is investigating the use of a helicopter that flew low over oil pipeline protesters on Monday in northern Minnesota.

More than a thousand protesters, including indigenous leaders and actress Jane Fonda, gathered at a pipeline construction site to demonstrate against the project and call for President Joe Biden to put an end to it. There were some arrests after people chained themselves to construction equipment.

Actress and Climate activist Jane Fonda (R) and Indigenous community members gather before praying for water during a rally and march in Solway, Minnesota on June 7, 2021. (credit: KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)

An MPR photojournalist on Monday captured what appeared to be a CBP helicopter flying at a very low altitude over the protest. The rotor wash kicked up a giant cloud of dirt, dust and debris over protesters that MPR reported were locked to the pipeline equipment.

"CBP's headquarters is investigating the facts to determine precisely what occurred and whether the actions taken were justified," a CBP spokesperson told CNN. "All appropriate actions will be taken based on the facts that are learned, including with respect to the incident itself as well as the agency's applicable policies and procedures."

Police in riot gear arrest environmental activists at the Line 3 pipeline pumping station near the Itasca State Park, Minnesota on June 7, 2021. (credit: KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)

"It's tragic that 100-plus American citizens have to get arrested to stop a Canadian corporation from ravaging the north," Winona LaDuke of Honor the Earth said. "It's a sorrowful day in Minnesota when a foreign corporation can finance repression, including the use yesterday of a federal helicopter to execute a dangerous and unnecessary tactical maneuver to everyone on the ground -- and in the air!"

The Northern Lights Task Force, the law enforcement collaborative overseeing the police response, said in a statement on Facebook that the helicopter "was to provide the [dispersal] order in a manner that everyone would be able to hear."

"Unforeseen to local law enforcement and due to the extremely dry conditions, dust kicked up in the area," the task force wrote. "As soon as helicopter staff saw what was happening, they immediately left the area to ensure no further issues would be caused. This was not an intentional act to cause discomfort or intended as a dispersal mechanism."

The helicopter reportedly made multiple passes over the site.

A White House official says the administration is "aware of the situation with the helicopter and we fully support the right for people to peacefully protest," the White House official told CNN. "The Biden administration is firmly committed to ensuring that under this administration, tribal consultation is robust and tribal concerns are heard."

The administration official told CNN that the permits for Line 3 pipeline issued last fall are the subject of ongoing litigation in both state and federal courts.

Indigenous people, and those in support of the movement they've led, are fighting to protect the land and water that the pipeline is planned on running through. The multi-billion dollar project from Enbridge would carve a path right between three reservations near Bemidji. Tribal and environmental groups are worried about what could happen should any part of the pipeline leak.

Enbridge says it hired more than 500 native workers for the pipeline project and is providing significant economic benefits for the area. The company says the new line is made from stronger steel and will better protect the environment.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN contributed to this report.)

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