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Gold Diggers and Indians
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Wisconsin: The gold rush is on. Republicans want mining companies to have their way. The Anishinaabe aren’t having it...

In the Northwoods of the Upper Midwest, the mining industry is busy prospecting. This area of the Great Lakes Basin is rich in valuable minerals. The focus is on gold deposit sites in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

The problem is that to extract this gold, companies must process sulfur-rich ore. This creates acid waste that pollutes the environment. For that reason, in 1997 the Wisconsin legislature instituted a moratorium on metallic sulfide mines.

But Democrats were in control then. Now Wisconsin's legislature is controlled by Republicans who support the mining industry's plea to repeal the state's sulfide mining moratorium.

The GOP has crafted Assembly Bill 426 for the Cline Group, a mining conglomorate who wants to establish open pit mines in the Penokee Mountains. They've proposed a 4.5-mile-long, 1.5-mile-wide open-pit mine that sits 30 miles south of Lake Superior in the Bad River headwaters.

Assembly Bill 426 passed the Wisconsin assembly in November, 2012. If it succeeds in the senate, Bill 426 would bypass environmental regulations and end local input and control of the mining industry.

The Bad River flows toward Lake Superior over Copper Falls and into Kakagon Slough, a 16,000-acre wetland known as the Everglades of the North. The Kakagon is located in the Bad River Reservation, home to the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa [Anishinaabe] Indians.

This slough is also home to the only surviving costal wild rice wetland in the Great Lakes Basin. Wild rice, or manoomin, is a sacred crop to the 11  Anishinaabe tribes in the Great Lakes area. These Nations and others are opposed to the Cline Group’s iron mine and the toxic runoff that is sure to ensue.

“Our tribe has been here 1,000 years,” said Mike Wiggins, the Bad River tribal chairman. “We don’t have the luxury as a people of fleeing somewhere or having another mini-state created. We are home, and this is all we’ve got. That wild rice is a sacred crop, a staple and a symbol of who we are as a people—what our culture is about, what sustains us.”

Anishinaabe activist Winona La Duke is adamantly opposed to the expansion of mining in Wisconsin.

“We’ve moved into an economy that’s a staples-extractive economy that destroys land and water for future generations. And it turns out that that’s not sustainable,” La Duke said. “The jobs that they’re going to get out of these mines are short-term jobs. What we should be doing, if we want to figure out how to live here for another 1,000 years, is re-localize, and make some peace up here with our land.”

The Anishinaabe are a radical lot. In the late 1980s, they defended their treaty rights to fish outside of reservation boundaries.  Known as the Wisconsin Walleye Wars, their fishing rights were upheld by a federal judge.

Joining the adult activists are Anishinaabe youth who are dead set in opposing the mine.

“Without the wild rice our way of life will disappear,” says Len Moore, a young Bad River from the tribe’s Bear Clan.
“If the Bad River goes and becomes toxic and bleeds right into Lake Superior, everything will suffer down the chain. We, as a people, have a little bit left of what our ways were, and we try to preserve them as best we can.

“We wish no ill will towards any of the mining corporations or their personnel. But we do need to defend and protect what we have—however that works out.”


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