Thursday, May 13, 2010

Opponents of sulfide mine hold peaceful Rally in Marquette

By Michele Bourdieu

Opponents of Rio Tinto-Kennecott's proposed sulfide mine on the Yellow Dog Plains carry signs in a peaceful protest Rally on Thursday, May 6, 2010, in front of the U.S. Post Office in Marquette. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photos and video clips by Keweenaw Now)

MARQUETTE -- Anyone driving or walking through downtown Marquette on Thursday, May 6, at lunchtime (noon - 1 p.m.) could not help but notice, in front of the U.S. Post Office, a peaceful, even joyful, demonstration by a large crowd of people carrying a variety of signs opposing Rio Tinto-Kennecott's proposed sulfide mine for nickel and copper on the Yellow Dog Plains.

This Rally, held only a couple blocks from the shores of Lake Superior, was in conjunction with the May 6 pre-trial conference for Cynthia Pryor, Sulfide Mining Campaign director of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, who was recently arrested for alleged "trespassing" on public land leased by multinational mining company Rio Tinto, with its subsidiary Kennecott Minerals.*

Cynthia Pryor (center, in blue skirt), Sulfide Mining Campaign director of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, joins Rally participants in front of the Marquette Post Office on May 6.

In fact, some of Pryor's supporters began the day at 9:30 a.m. in front of the Courthouse to sign petitions and letters to Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Rally followed later at noon in front of the Post Office, and the large crowd then marched peacefully to the Courthouse at about 1 p.m. to await the announcement from Pryor's attorney concerning the decision made at the 1:30 p.m. pre-trial conference.

Petitions, letters signed at Courthouse before Rally

On Thursday morning, May 6, preceding the Rally and the the pre-trial conference, supporters of Pryor and the anti-sulfide-mining campaign gathered in front of the Courthouse to show support for Pryor, whom they believe was unjustly arrested on public land leased by Rio Tinto-Kennecott before the company has received adequate permits to begin mining. Pryor was arrested near Eagle Rock, a sacred site to the Anishinaabe, where Native and non-Native protesters have been camping since the arrest.**

Cynthia Pryor, Sulfide Mining Campaign director for the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, met with supporters in front of the Marquette Courthouse on Thursday morning, May 6, preceding the noon Rally and the pre-trial conference concerning her arrest on April 20, 2010, for alleged "trespassing" on public land.

"Right now we're just bringing attention to (the pre-trial conference) by having folks come and sign petitions and having a Rally at noon," Pryor said in the morning in front of the Courthouse.

Megan McDonald of Marquette was among the supporters who were collecting signatures on petitions for environmental justice to be sent with letters to Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and to the EPA Office of Civil Rights in Washington, DC.

"Basically the fresh water and the expanse of land with integrity is the reason I live here," McDonald said. "I personally think it's worth more than just us as a people -- and generations of our family."

With McDonald, also collecting petition signatures, was Kristen Karls of Big Bay.

In front of the Marquette Courthouse Thursday morning, May 6, Megan McDonald, left, and Kristen Karls set out to collect signatures on petitions for environmental justice to be sent to Gov. Granholm and the EPA.

"I live on Moon Mountain, right on the Yellow Dog River. I have a personal interest. It (the sulfide mine) could ruin my drinking water and that of many families in the area -- families with little children," Karls said. "I can drink the water right out of the ground -- without any filtering or anything."

Jamaal Newson, originally of Kalamazoo but now a resident of Marquette, said he moved up to the U.P. because of the mountains and the trees -- and Lake Superior.

"Can't really resist it," he said about the lake. "So I decided to move up -- and freeze, but ... (laughter) but it's worth it."

The temperature in the morning on May 6 was a bit nippy in front of the Courthouse. Well prepared with gloves and mittens, however, was Robin Lachapelle of Ishpeming, mother of two daughters, who signed the petition.

Supporters who signed petitions and letters in front of the Courthouse on a chilly May 6 morning included, from left, Carrie Masters of Detroit, Jamaal Newson of Marquette (formerly of Kalamazoo) and Robin Lachapelle of Ishpeming, who donated a pair of warm wool mittens to Keweenaw Now's editor. Thanks again, Robin!

Lachapelle said she signed it "because I think that's probably the most beautiful area on the face of the earth -- I really do."

Carrie Masters of Detroit, a Northern Michigan University (NMU) student in international studies and Spanish, said she was at the Courthouse because she believed it was important for people to make a stand on this issue.

"To make a movement," she added.

Collecting signatures for a letter to the EPA was Quentin Sprengelmeyer of Marquette, an NMU student in biology with an ecology emphasis. Sprengelmeyer said he joined this event because of what the sulfide mine could do to the water.

"The Yellow Dog's right there," he said.

NMU student Quentin Sprengelmeyer, right, collects signatures from sulfide mining opponents in front of the Marquette Courthouse on Thursday, May 6. Also pictured are Robin Lachapelle of Ishpeming, left, and Kathleen Shattuck of Marquette.

Kathleen Shattuck of Marquette said she decided to come to the protest because she believes the sulfide mine is dangerous for the water and is going to ruin the U.P.

"That's a part of the wilderness," Shattuck said. "We'll never get it back."

Barbara Bradley, a member of Keepers of the Water, a group of Native and non-Native women who have supported the anti-sulfide-mining campaign by raising grant money for such events as Protect the Earth,*** was busy making a sign for the Rally.

In front of the Marquette Courthouse on Thursday morning, May 6, Barbara Bradley of Keepers of the Water makes a sign for the noon Rally.

"We work mainly in a spiritual way, but, when necessary, in a political way, to protect the water," Bradley said.

Teresa Bertossi, left, of Keepers of the Water, collects petitions with Emily Sprengelmeyer, who was making a sign for the Rally in front of the Courthouse on Thursday morning, May 6.

High-energy, peaceful Rally attracts nearly 100 sulfide mine opponents

At the noon Rally, participants' signs, chants and comments made it clear this was definitely about the water: about protecting trout streams which are at risk of being polluted by Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) from a potential mine that experts have already criticized for technological flaws in its design -- and about Lake Superior, which could receive such pollution from the streams that empty into it.

The crowd of nearly 100 broke into chants and applauded and cheered when passing cars honked in support of their protest. Members of the percussion group Log Jam, accompanied by NMU Dance Instructor Maria Formolo's creative dance movements, added a special rhythm to the atmosphere.


Musicians from the percussion group Log Jam, from left, Jen Pickard, Jen Silverston and Christy Budnick, accompanied by NMU Dance Instructor Maria Formolo, add their rhythms to the Rally. (Video clip by Keweenaw Now)

Teresa Bertossi, a member of Keepers of the Water, said, "It was a large rally and most of the people who drove by honked, waved and gave the thumbs up. It was pretty clear that most of the public are against what this foreign company, Rio Tinto-Kennecott, is trying to do to our water."

With Lake Superior just a few blocks behind her, Marquette artist Beth Millner, one of the organizers of the Rally, displays a sign that attracted responses from passing cars.

Beth Millner, one of the Rally organizers, has since sent a letter to the editor to a Marquette TV6 Web site, in which she states, "The likelihood of acid mine drainage from the proposed Eagle Mine leaking into our waterways is reason for public outcry. We cannot risk our pristine water and the magnificent Lake Superior for a few jobs now and contaminate water for the future."****

Linda and Dave Rulison of the Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK) traveled from Pelkie, Mich., to attend the Rally. The Rulisons also visited Eagle Rock recently in support of the Native Americans of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) camping there in protest against the mine.**

Pelkie residents Linda and Dave Rulison, right, of FOLK (Friends of the Land of Keweenaw), carry signs during the May 6 Rally in Marquette. Here they are pictured joining in the chants of the protesters with Cynthia Pryor, second from left, and Joanne Thomas of Allouez.

"We came all the way to Marquette to say that having clean water is more important than taking minerals out of our ground," Linda Rulison said. "We need to protect the Great Lakes."

Jennifer Silverston of Marquette, carrying a sign saying "Fresh water is so precious," spoke about Rio Tinto-Kennecott's recent request to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw their application for a federal permit to discharge from the mining operations 500,000 gallons of wastewater a day into the watersheds of the Salmon Trout and Yellow Dog rivers. Because of an allegedly revised "surface" design, the company has substituted a State of Michigan permit.

"We're going through the proper channels -- the legal channels," Silverston said. "It (the mine) still goes forward. At this point I have concerns about the validity of the MDNRE (Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment) permit to put treated industrial wastewater onto the surface. So we're appealing to the federal agencies under the Safe Drinking Water Act. So that's why I'm here."

With Silverston was Marquette resident Greer Harewood, whose sign read "Clean Water Forever."

Marquette residents Jennifer Silverston, right, and Greer Harewood display their signs about water during the May 6 Rally in front of the Marquette Post Office.

"I moved here and heard about sulfide mining, and I think our fresh water resources are something to protect," Harewood said. "And since Lake Superior has approximately 20 percent of the world's fresh water it just makes it that much more important."

Carrying a sign that said simply "Unite," was Marquette native ("born and raised here") Emily Depetro, NMU student in special education.

Pictured here with other Rally participants, NMU student Emily Depetro, third from right, carries a simple, but significant message in her sign, "Unite."

"I'm here because I think people should stop counting the green in their wallets and start focusing on the green in the environment," Depetro said.

Nora Belic of Marquette said, "I'm here because I want clean water forever, and I think people need to realize that it's not just the greedy corporations that want the mine. It's us as consumers. We keep consuming, and we need to start having less and stop wanting more."

Nora Belic of Marquette demonstrates for clean water at the Rally.

Noting that the sulfide mine has not been proven safe, Roslyn McGrath, a 16-year resident of Marquette, said she joined the Rally because of the need to protect this land and water.

Roslyn McGrath of Marquette displays a sign with an effective message during the Rally.

"Our elected officials need to realize that the mine does not support our community and the community does not support having a sulfide mine here," McGrath stated.

Eeva Miller of Marquette (in straw hat) collects signatures for the environmental justice petition while Kyra Fillmore and her two children, Llewellyn, 18 months, and Eileen Dawn, 5, join the Rally. Fillmore said she attended the Rally "just to protect the water for my kids."

After demonstrating an hour at the Post Office, the Rally participants walked peacefully to the Marquette Courthouse to await the results of Cynthia Pryor's pre-trial conference.

Now retired from the Department of Chemistry at NMU, Gail Griffith commented on the potential pollution from a sulfide mine.

"I taught biochemistry and toxicology at Northern, and I'm very aware of the possibility of contamination from things like sulfide mining," Griffith said.

Gail Griffith, retired NMU chemistry professor, center, carrying green Stand for the Land sign, heads from the Post Office to the Courthouse with other Rally participants.

She said the potential pollution of Lake Superior could result from a catastrophic event such as the collapse of the mine's crown pillar.

"But we don't want to risk that," Griffith noted. "They (Kennecott) 'certified' to the DNRE that they didn't need an EPA permit. That's a legal question. Do they really have a lease on that state land?"

Still displaying their signs, Rally participants wait on the Courthouse steps to hear the news about Cynthia Pryor's pre-trial conference Thursday afternoon, May 6.

Rosa Musket of Marquette, whose great-grandfather was Potawatomi, carried a sign calling attention to Native American treaty rights. She said she was concerned that the planet's natural ecology is being destroyed.

"This company is notorious for misleading the general population," Musket noted.

Rosa Musket of Marquette displays her sign for Native American Treaty Rights on the steps of the Courthouse May 6.


Rally participants sing "This Land is Your Land" on the Courthouse steps.

Finally, Cynthia Pryor appeared at the Courthouse entrance with her attorney and announced the agreement that was made concerning her bond for the "trespassing" charge.

The purpose of the conference was for the lawyers and the judge to determine how this case is going to go forward. Since Kennecott did not dismiss the case, Pryor pleaded "not guilty" and asked for a jury trial. It was decided that Kennecott will allow her to access her Yellow Dog Watershed land, but not the proposed mine site.

"I cannot stop on Kennecott land at the (mine) site (which includes Eagle Rock)," Pryor explained, "but any other Kennecott properties, going where I'm going, I can pass through that land."

Cynthia Pryor speaks with supporters outside the Courthouse after her pre-trial conference.

Pryor said she takes roads to get to Yellow Dog land and roads to get to McCormick Wilderness that go through Kennecott property. She is allowed to pass through their properties but, as part of her bond because of the arrest, she cannot stop at Eagle Rock. A jury trial is scheduled for June 15 to determine a verdict on the misdemeanor trespassing charge.

Addressing her supporters outside the courthouse, Pryor said, "I want you to be there (on Eagle Rock) with KBIC. Please support them in every way. I cannot go there. Please go there. Thank you."

Editor's Notes: * See our Apr. 22, 2010, article, "Cynthia Pryor pleads 'not guilty' to trespassing charge."

** See our May 9 article, "Native, non-Native campers on Eagle Rock oppose sulfide mine."

*** See our August 2009 articles , "Protect the Earth 2009: Part 1" and "Protect the Earth: Part 2, Walk to Eagle Rock."

**** See Beth Millner's letter: "Alternative Employment is Available in the U.P."

Visit the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve Web site blog for more information on citizen action, copies of letters and the petition mentioned in this article and news updates.

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