BARAGA - The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community kicked off a two-day tribal mining forum Friday afternoon in the Ojibwa Community College's gymnasium, hoping to educate the community about mining issues in tribal territory. Speakers encouraged tribal members and concerned non-tribal community members to fight against Upper Peninsula mining that infringes on treaty rights and the environment.
"It's good to see we're finally getting here on the reservation and talking about these important issues," said KBIC President Chris Swartz, who hesitated to go into more details during his introduction about the proposed Kennecott Eagle Mine due to ongoing litigation.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approved a mining permit in 2010 for the mine on the Yellow Dog Plains in Marquette County. The KBIC continues to fight it because they say sulfide mining damages natural resources - particularly clean water - and the proposed mine entrance on Eagle Rock is a sacred place to tribal people.
Daily Mining Gazette/Stephen Anderson
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community President Chris Swartz makes an opening statement kicking off a two-day tribal mining forum at the Ojibwa Community College gymnasium on Friday afternoon.
Tina VanZile from the Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa Community in Wisconsin spoke first because keynote speaker Mike Wiggins Jr., chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, was late. Both spoke from past and current experience fighting mining operations in their respective tribal areas.
"Our community suffered for a long time," said VanZile, who presented "Lessons from the Crandon Mine."
The Mole Lake tribe won a 28-year battle against that mine on Oct. 28, 2003, and the tribe now owns the mine site itself. VanZile said a key reason for finally winning that battle was educating people and forming alliances.
"Once people are educated about the Crandon Mine, they did not want it at all," she said. "You'd be surprised of all these non-native groups that will give because it's not just your water; it's their water, their fish and their natural resources."
VanZile was not always convinced victory was possible, but she and her tribe kept fighting anyways, and after working with 35 other organizations and agencies, Mole Lake finally won. Since 2003 they've been able to switch their focus back to internal growth, building a health clinic, a gas station and other important infrastructure.
"We can't just pick up and move our reservation somewhere else," she said. "It's very stressful and you might think you can't win."
She encouraged KBIC tribal members to help agencies understand their stories and why they're important. Mole Lake pushed for its own Environmental Impact Statements and water quality tests, built its own team of experts and thoroughly documented its traditional culture properties. VanZile closed by encouraging tribal members to never give up the fight.
"It's really great to learn from the Sokaogon people who went through this for many years already," Jessica Koski, KBIC mining technical assistant and forum coordinator, said between speakers.
Wiggins spoke just as adamantly about opposing mining operations, and the Bad River tribe is facing a similar challenge with the Gogebic Mine on the Penokee Mountains in Wisconsin.
"What's going to replace oil? Unfortunately it seems to be an all-out assault on our natural resources with a disregard for our people," said Wiggins, before challenging the audience to keep up the fight.
The two speakers were just a small portion of a busy two-day forum agenda. Attendees not only heard from speakers, but also gathered dozens of information packets on a wide range of mining, natural resources and treaty issues.
Mike Ripley from the Chippewa-Ottawa Resource Authority, also presented on "Historical Environmental Impacts of Mining in the Lake Superior Basin." A Sand Point Stamp Sands Restoration Project presentation and tour capped off Friday.
Today's agenda, which changed slightly from the initial agenda, includes a "Lake Superior Basin Mining Overview" presentation at 9:15 a.m., "U.P. Mining Updates and Issues" at 10 a.m., "KBIC and the Eagle Mine Project" at 11 a.m., "Part I: Intro to Natural Resources Damages" at 11:30 a.m., lunch at noon, "Sulfide Mining Policy and Regulation" at 1 p.m., "Part II: Tribal Natural Resources Damages" at 1:45 p.m., "Implications to Treaty Rights" at 2:45 p.m., "Mining Education and Empowerment Project" at 3:30 p.m. and a breakout discussion session at 3:50 p.m. followed by closing remarks.