By Michele Bourdieu
EAGLE ROCK -- On Tuesday, May 25, you could feel the heat at Eagle Rock -- not just the recent unseasonable temperatures in the 80s and 90s, but the heat of friction between the small group of campers protesting a potential sulfide mine and the giant, multinational mining company Rio Tinto-Kennecott, whose record of environmental destruction and human rights abuses has followed it from farflung locations like Papua, New Guinea, to nearer Ladysmith, Wisconsin (where residents are suing the company for polluting their fresh water) to Eagle Rock, an Ojibwa sacred site on the Yellow Dog Plains in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Camp at Eagle Rock on Tuesday, May 25. (Photos by Keweenaw Now unless otherwise indicated.)
On Tuesday and again on Wednesday, May 26, Kennecott representatives asked the campers to leave Eagle Rock. They refused.
"I like the heat," said Charlotte Loonsfoot, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), who was one of three women who decided a month ago to occupy Eagle Rock in protest against the sulfide mine. She was also one of the campers who refused to leave.
"The women are the peacemakers and the protectors of the water," Loonsfoot told Keweenaw Now on Tuesday. "I said no because of our religious act and our treaty rights."*
Campers and visitors at Eagle Rock on Tuesday, May 25, are, from left, Rosa Musket, Jessica Koski, Kalvin Hartwig, Georgenia Earring, Charlotte Loonsfoot, Catherine Parker and Connie.
Loonsfoot said the Kennecott representatives tried to persuade the campers to move "across the street" to another site, which is also public land leased by Kennecott from the State.
"After I said no, I said, 'Can you give us a couple of days to consult with our spiritual advisor?'" Loonsfoot added.
A video clip posted on Stand for the Land shows Kennecott's Matt Johnson, Government and Community Relations manager, telling Loonsfoot that Kennecott is asking them to move to an "alternative campsite" because of federal and state regulations for safety.
"As construction moves forward, we need to comply with those federal and state laws," Johnson said, "and we need this site to be safe for both you and our employees."
Kennecott's fence at Eagle Rock cut off the campers' access to water earlier this week.
Today, Thursday, May 27, Kennecott representatives reportedly arrived with about 20 police vehicles to arrest the peaceful group of campers and clear them from Eagle Rock. An article on Upper Michigan's Source, quotes Michigan State Police Sergeant Robert Pernaski as saying, "Kennecott asked the parties to leave officially at 9 a.m. They were given a half-an-hour to depart the premise. At 9:30, we entered the picture, along with Kennecott again, asked them to leave. They refused to leave, and we then arrested two of the group for trespassing."**
Loonsfoot and Chris Chosa, also of KBIC, were the two who were arrested today and later released on their own recognizance. Loonsfoot was fasting and praying on top of Eagle Rock when she was arrested and handcuffed.***
The charge of "trespassing" seems unexplained, since the group has been allowed to camp at Eagle Rock and hold religious ceremonies for more than a month, ever since Cynthia Pryor, Sulfide Mining Campaign director of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, was arrested on April 22 for "trespassing." Pryor, whose arrest led to a large rally of peaceful protest in Marquette, pleaded not guilty and faces a jury trial in June for a misdemeanor.****
Both arrests were made on public land Kennecott-Rio Tinto has leased from the State of Michigan for its mining operation for nickel and copper. Mine opponents claim the lease is not legal since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not ruled finally on permits. Native American protest is also based on 1836 and 1842 treaties guaranteeing the Ojibwa people rights to fish, hunt and gather on ceded territory. Eagle Rock, which the Ojibwa consider a sacred site, is a place where traditionally they have gathered medicines and performed religious ceremonies.
Spiritual Advisor questions State lease of public land
On Tuesday, May 25, while still camping on Eagle Rock, Loonsfoot and other campers discussed their situation with a spiritual advisor, who identified himself as Nish-Nung (Two Stars) of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwas in Minnesota.
"They (Kennecott) don't have clear title to the land," he said. "If they had clear title, then they would have been able to remove us, and they haven't." [As of Tuesday, they hadn't.]
In fact, the February 2008 Metallic Mineral Mining Operations Surface Use Lease between the State of Michigan (Lessor) and Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company (Lessee) states this under Title: "Lessee acknowledges that (a) lessor makes no warranty of title with respect to the Premises (parcels included in the lease); (b) Lessee has had the opportunity to make its own assessment to such title; and (c) Lessee waives any claim against Lessor for inadequate or defective title to the Premises."
Nish-Nung had other comments on Kennecott's lease of this public land.
"They're breaking the lease agreement with the State of Michigan by logging," he said. "They're not supposed to be logging up here."
Nish-Nung added concerns about fire safety, noting he believed Kennecott lacked a fire safety marshal or a plan with the local fire department (Big Bay's is the closest).
"What would happen if they started a forest fire with their logging?" he asked.
Like Loonsfoot, Nish-Nung spoke of the need to protect the water, the use of which is guaranteed by Native American treaty rights. However, he said he believed the opposition to Kennecott's mine should not be just a Native issue.
"We have a lien against this territory to collect and gather medicines, to use the waterways," he said. "They will pollute the water here, and it will affect not just the Native communities but the white communities, too."
Nish-Nung hung an upside-down American flag in place of a Native American flag that had hung at the top of Eagle Rock earlier. He said it was upside-down to symbolize distress.
American flag is hung upside-down on top of Eagle Rock as a sign of distress.
"We are in distress," he said. "Our livelihoods, our lives, are being threatened by Kennecott. They're impeding our ability to collect water and medicines by building the fence."
Nish-Nung referred to the State fish advisories that tell people how much fish is safe to eat (mainly because of mercury pollution).
"We're only allowed to eat one fish a week now," he noted. "Five years from now we won't even be able to eat fish from Lake Superior if this mine is allowed -- or any mine on this or the Canadian side of Lake Superior. We're not going to be able to feed our children -- or our communities -- and it takes a whole community to raise a child. Why hasn't society learned from its past mistakes what mining does? Money has become more important than the lives of children."
He raised his own children in the Sault-Ste Marie Band in Michigan, Nish-Nung explained.
Campers, visitors express views
Also camping at Eagle Rock on Tuesday was Georgenia Earring, whose two young sons, Keya, 7 and Tokala, 4, have been camping with their parents at Eagle Rock, although they were not there on Tuesday.
"They love it here," she said. "They know why I'm here. They understand, and they're all for it."
Another visitor from outside Michigan was Cassandra Dixon, who lives north of Madison, Wis.
Cassandra Dixon, right, a visitor from Wisconsin, and Rosa Musket of Marquette sort items for recycling at the Eagle Rock camp on Tuesday, May 25, 2010.
"I was involved in nuclear waste dump issues which overlapped with mining issues," Dixon said. "I just don't want to see that here."
Rosa Musket of Marquette was working on sorting items for recycling with Dixon. She had also visited Eagle Rock on Saturday, May 22, when Lee Sprague of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians came to help the campers with their vegetable garden.
"With Lee's helpful guidance and everyone's participation, we started the beginnings of the garden, which had a couple of small hoop greenhouses," Musket noted.
Lee Sprague, right, of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, helps campers with their garden at Eagle Rock last Saturday, May 22. (Photo courtesy Stand for the Land)
Sprague also brought a Turkey Feather Fan Gift from the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.
A friend of Loonsfoot's, Connie (who preferred not to give her last name), came from Minnesota because, she said, "Charlotte called and needed help."
Connie noted she came to be part of the effort in a supportive way, with respect for the cause. Loonsfoot had helped her in the past, she added.
"She's a sister," Connie explained.
Helping the campers with chopping wood for the sacred fire, setting up tarps and other camping duties was Richard Sloat of Iron River, Mich., who had arranged with his employer to spend two days a week at Eagle Rock. His purpose in supporting the campers was "to defend the water," he said.
Sloat said he became involved in the issue after hearing a library presentation by Teresa Bertossi, now of Headwaters News, a couple of years ago.
"Teresa Bertossi gave a presentation at our local library. She was so compassionate and caring about the water that her presentation convinced me," Sloat explained. "I always knew clean water was important, but -- to the degree that mining companies are polluting the water -- I just felt I had to do something more than just complain about it."
A comment by Catherine Parker of Marquette recalled the opening pages of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
Catherine Parker of Marquette cuts cantaloupe in the Eagle Rock kitchen on May 25.
"I've been out here for the past two nights," Parker noted. "I've never heard so many birds at twilight. If the mine opens we're not going to hear that. You wake up in the morning and it's birds and trucks, birds and trucks. I wonder how much longer they'll keep singing."
* Loonsfoot was referring to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (1978) and to the Treaty of 1836 which guarantees the rights to hunt, fish and gather on ceded territory.
** See "Two arrested at Kennecott mine site," by Brad Soroka.
*** See "Rio Tinto’s Idea of Community Relations," by Emily Whittaker, executive director, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.
**** See our May 13 article, "Opponents of sulfide mine hold peaceful Rally in Marquette."
Editor's Notes: A May 27 article by Greg Peterson in Indian Country Today, describing the arrests at Eagle Rock, says, "Mine officials doused the grandfather fire, uprooted the Eagle Rock Community Garden, removed two flags from atop Eagle Rock and bulldozed the camp." Read more ...
See also video clips and other updates on Stand for the Land.