Keweenaw Bay Indian Community members Jessica Koski and Donnie Dowd both spoke at the Treaty Rights Teaching event held at Eagle Rock Saturday, May 15. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)
By Michele Bourdieu
EAGLE ROCK -- The Treaty Rights Teaching event held at Eagle Rock Saturday, May 15, was open to the public and attracted not only Native and non-Native opponents of the proposed Rio Tinto-Kennecott sulfide mine but also a few mine supporters, including two Kennecott community relations personnel.
Teresa Bertossi of Headwaters News welcomes visitors to the Treaty Rights Teaching event at Eagle Rock on Saturday, May 15.
An ATV rally of mine supporters, scheduled to take place in the area of Eagle Rock, did not materialize as planned.
However, one unidentified person in a car caused problems at the security gate -- first alone in his car and the second time with a friend.
Organizers and security persons at the event said that, while the small group of ATVers that actually stopped on the road were cordial, this man drove his car over a safety cone and at least two people had to jump out of the way of his vehicle. This apparently hostile driver did not attend the event.
Kennecott reps attend Teaching event
Visitors representing Rio-Tinto-Kennecott were Matt Johnson, Government and Community Affairs manager for Kennecott Eagle Minerals, and Chantae Lessard, Kennecott's Community Relations senior advisor.
Matt Johnson (standing at left, background, in dark jacket), Government and Community Affairs manager for Kennecott Eagle Minerals, and Chantae Lessard (seated at Johnson's left), Kennecott's Community Relations senior advisor, listen to speakers during the Treaty Rights Teaching event held at Eagle Rock Saturday, May 15.
Johnson spoke to Keweenaw Now in an interview preceding the speakers event.
When asked why he left his position as Upper Peninsula representative for Governor Jennifer Granholm, Johnson explained it was a question of her term limit (She cannot run again in 2010) and an offer from Kennecott. He began working for Kennecott in 2008.
"It was an excellent opportunity to continue my career and live in the Upper Peninsula," Johnson noted. "Over the last 15 years I've been working on natural resource policies on the state and federal government level; and I worked closely with the timber product industry, land protection programs, conservation programs and the mining industry."
While working for Gov. Granholm, Johnson had represented her at The Nature Conservancy's celebration of the Keweenaw Tip purchase (for land protection) from the State of Michigan.*
Johnson explained the connection between conservation programs and private industry like the mining company as follows: "Land conservation easements are a partnership between the private sector, government and conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy, so private corporations play a role in the availability and implementation of land protection policies."
Johnson said the company, at this time, has no pending permit applications with any government regulatory agency. He confirmed the company withdrew the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permit application for an Underground Injection Control (UIC) permit after changing their water discharge design so that, instead of having six feet of earth on top of the pipes (which were to be at grade level) they would have a styrofoam covering on top, thus obviating the need for the EPA's UIC permit (in the opinion of the company and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, or MDNRE).
Gabriel Caplett of Headwaters News asked Johnson why the company did not wait for a reply from the EPA concerning the withdrawal of the UIC permit application before beginning mining operations.
"We're working with the EPA ," he added. "If the EPA decides to have additional permit requirements for mining operations, we will work with the EPA to resolve those permit requirements." (He noted the company has one EPA permit for sewage discharge.)
Mine opponents, however, question the state's approval of Kennecott's actions and have been writing to the EPA, requesting that the federal agency study the state permits granted to Rio Tinto-Kennecott for this project. Preceding the Eagle Rock speakers event, several visitors added their names to a letter to be sent to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Kennecott's Treated Water Infiltration System (TWIS) uses reverse osmosis -- a highly technical type of filtering -- to treat the mining waste, Johnson explained. It will put back in the ground treated water that meets drinking-water quality standards. He described it as a "sophisticated piece of equipment" that is the first of its kind in the State of Michigan.
Concerning Rio Tinto-Kennecott's recent meeting with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) Tribal Council, Johnson did not reveal any details but said the company is always willing to communicate.
"We had a good meeting, and we look forward to future meetings," Johnson said. "It's an ongoing discussion that we'll have with the Tribal Council."**
Johnson said the mine portal, originally planned for Eagle Rock, has been moved back from the Rock about 100 feet.
"We understand that the Tribe has concerns about the cultural aspects of Eagle Rock and we'd like to have a dialogue, which is why we're here today -- to learn more about the tribal concerns as we move forward with construction," Johnson said.
The Native American speakers at the teaching event emphasized Native American treaty rights and the role of those occupying Eagle Rock in asserting these rights.
Charlotte Loonsfoot: Occupation a religious act
Charlotte Loonsfoot, a KBIC member who was one of the first to camp on Eagle Rock as a protest against the sulfide mine for both environmental and spiritual reasons, spoke briefly about the occupation.
Charlotte Loonsfoot, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community member, speaks to visitors at the Treaty Rights Teaching event held at Eagle Rock, an Ojibwa sacred site, May 15. Loonsfoot explained the origin of the Eagle Rock occupation as a religious act in protest against Rio Tinto-Kennecott's proposed sulfide mine for nickel and copper on the Yellow Dog Plains.
"I felt like I had to do something," Loonsfoot told the visitors. "I'm a woman and we're protectors of the water."
Loonsfoot said she considered the occupation of Eagle Rock a religious act, allowed under Native American treaty rights.
"We're allowed to be here," she said. "This is where our ancestors came from."
Loonsfoot noted the group has received permits -- such as harvesting, gathering and fishing rights -- from KBIC for eight years. She said all are welcome to visit Eagle Rock -- "all colors, all religions" -- and the group welcomes contributions to aid in their survival.
"If you want to bring something, bring it. We might need it," she added.
Non-Native speakers on land, water protection
Big Bay resident Chuck Glossenger spoke about public land rights (Eagle Rock is on State of Michigan land leased by Rio Tinto-Kennecott).
Big Bay resident Chuck Glossenger speaks about public land protection during the May 15 Teaching event on Eagle Rock.
"I just love it that we're out here, because this is public land," Glossenger said. "My fighting against this mine for the last seven years is based on my love of the U.P."
He complained, however, that public officials have not given people the power to protect this public land, which should have areas where there can be no mining -- such as Isle Royale, which is protected from mining because it is a national park.
"If we had a regulatory agency that was concerned about our public land," Glossenger noted, "they would grade certain areas. This one is right at the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River. This would be ineligible."
Glossenger compared the role played in this mining issue by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Natural Resources (now merged as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, or MDNRE) to the regulatory agencies who failed to require safety features that could have prevented the current oil spill on the Gulf Coast. In both cases, he noted, regulatory agencies allowed drilling in a sensitive area where there should be no drilling.
"The bottom line to me," Glossenger said, "is who gets to decide where a mine locates?"
A mining company says they should be able to decide, even if it's on our public land, Glossenger added. Democracy says we should be able to decide that.
Marquette resident Eeva Miller noted that if Kennecott dumps more tailings (mining waste) at the Humboldt Mill site, where tailings from previous mines still exist, the tailings will end up in the Escanaba River, which flows into Lake Michigan. Thus, Kennecott's operation could affect both Lake Superior and Lake Michigan.
Bob Tammen, who worked 30 years in the Empire and Tilden mines, spoke about mining on the Minnesota iron range, where "every tailings pond is leaking." He expressed special concern about PolyMet's proposed open-pit sulfide mine in Northeastern Minnesota, which would impact the Lake Superior watershed.
Bob Tammen of Soudan, Minn., points out watersheds impacted by iron mining on the Minnesota iron range.
Tammen noted that at the Dunka mine site, where a low-grade copper ore body was on top of the iron to be mined, the company scraped off the copper. This led to acid mine drainage that polluted a lake located not far from the Boundary Waters.
"Over 30 years ago they knew they had acid mine drainage," Tannen said. "They started the cleanup. How long do we have to wait for the cleanup to be completed?"
The mining company was discharging in excess of Minnesota standards and, under threat of a lawsuit in federal court, admitted it was polluting, so the state merely issued a consent decree -- a "sweetheart agreement" between the state and the company -- which voided federal action.
Tannen said the situation in Michigan is similar to that in Minnesota -- a case of regulatory capture.
"After so many years, typically the industry takes over the regulatory agencies," Tannen said.
He noted the mining company also spends a lot of money on public relations and university research so that newspapers and universities end up supporting the mining.***
KBIC's Dowd, Koski: Assert treaty rights, work together
Representing two generations of Ojibwa members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), elder Donnie Dowd of Tapiola, who is a Vietnam veteran, and Yale University graduate student Jessica Koski both spoke about Native American religious and environmental issues.
Dowd, a member of the Grand Medicine Lodge Society, spoke about the Ojibwa prophecy of the Seven Fires.
KBIC elder Donnie Dowd speaks about Ojibwa prophecies and the need for Native and non-Native peoples to work together.
"We're well into the Seventh Fire and there's only going to be eight fires," Dowd said.****
He said former President Jimmy Carter was the best president of the United States because he signed the American Indian (Native American) Religious Freedom Act (1978).
"We still don't understand how you can sell your mother (the Earth)," Dowd said. "Our mother is getting tired of us making her sick."
Earth flag at top of Eagle Rock, May 15, 2010.
Dowd gave examples of recent earthquakes and other climate disasters as a great sign that we have to change.
"I know that," Dowd said. "How do I explain (that) to this dominant society that's been overthrowing my people for 500 years?"
Dowd questioned how mine opponents -- both Native and non-Native -- can fight this mine. He said people need to ask Rio Tinto-Kennecott these questions: How many people are going to get the jobs? How long is it going to be here? What's it going to do to the water?
Kids make art on Eagle Rock. Their parents are camping on Eagle Rock because of their concern for future generations.
"I don't want the mine here at all," Dowd said. "Let's reclaim our ceded territory so they'll never be able to mine in the whole U.P."
Dowd said he dislikes the word history -- "his" story -- and prefers "our" story.
"Indians, non-Indians together," he explained. "Without that nothing's going to happen. We have to do that for our U.P."
Jessica Koski arrived from Connecticut just in time to conclude the speakers program. She spoke first about freedom of religion, noting Native Americans all across the country are having difficulty protecting their religious freedom and having their traditional beliefs recognized.
Jessica Koski speaks about Native American rights during the teaching event at Eagle Rock on May 15.
"The (U.S.) Constitution guarantees religious freedom for all Americans, and that includes Native Americans, too," Koski said.
She noted the failure of the former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (former DEQ, now a part of the DNRE) to recognize Eagle Rock as a place of worship -- because it doesn't have any built structures. That was despite Judge Richard A. Patterson's recommendation (to the DEQ) to protect it. Koski called this "discrimination, environmental racism."
"Native peoples don't have a door to the courts to have their places legally protected," Koski said.
She gave an example of a 1988 case in California in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Forest Service building a road through a Native American sacred site.
Koski spoke of the colonial legacy of the U.S. Constitution, noting it protects private property and commerce rather than the environment.
"People don't have a right to a clean environment and clean water in our own Constitution, but people have a right to pollute and exploit their private property," Koski said.
She said even the Endangered Species Act, which can protect certain species on private property, has been challenged in the Supreme Court on the basis of the "commercial" rather than the inherent value of a species.
"Even though the U.S. Constitution doesn't recognize and isn't protecting Native American sacred places, that doesn't diminish our right in any way," Koski said. "It just means we have to keep fighting. We have to keep bringing cases to the Supreme Court, even though they won't hear it because they say that Congress needs to have a cause of action to protect sacred places."
In June, Koski hopes to organize a gathering at Eagle Rock in conjunction with Sacred Places Prayer Day -- an occasion for prayers at threatened sacred places around the country.
"I'm not an expert," Koski said, "but what I do know and what I'm learning about treaty rights is that those are stronger ways to protect the environment than our own environmental laws -- in the State of Michigan and in the United States of America. The right to hunt, fish and gather -- that depends on a clean environment."
Koski mentioned the need to have more knowledge of treaty rights and more confidence in asserting them. She noted international support for indigenous people's treaty rights includes the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which recognizes their right to protect their sacred places, carry on their spiritual duties and protect the environment for future generations.
"But the United States is one of three countries in the world that haven't signed that Declaration," Koski added.
The others are Canada and New Zealand. Australia only recently signed it. Koski said she had recently read an article saying the U.S. is re-considering its position.
"If they do (sign the Declaration), that would give us more support for protecting our treaty rights and protecting us from a multi-national mining corporation," Koski said.
The power of multi-national corporations to avoid environmental regulations and to come to a place uninvited -- to destroy it -- is a new kind of colonialism, Koski noted. She mentioned her recent visit to Rio Tinto's Annual General Meeting in London to ask them not to destroy this place and to respect the Ojibwa people's right to practice their religion. While there, she heard similar voices of people from many countries who have been exploited by this company -- from Papua, New Guinea, to Mongolia -- and she stood beside representatives of the Borax workers from California who were locked out by Rio Tinto's anti-union policies.
Koski referred also to the moratorium on sulfide mining in Wisconsin and the hard work behind this grass roots effort by Native and non-Native people working together and getting their state representatives who cared about the issue to support them.
"The leaders of that grass-roots movement came from the people," Koski noted. "It wasn't the legal experts. They were all helpful ... but it was the local people that guided that movement."
Koski said this mining issue is long-term and Kennecott's mine would be just the first of many potential mines in the U.P.
"This is more than just this one mine," Koski said. "Rio Tinto has announced ... five or six additional sites in this area that they would like to develop."
Other companies are waiting in the wings to see what happens with this project, Koski added. Exploration within the L'Anse Reservation includes not just sulfide mining but potentially uranium mining.
"This is a really pristine area that we have here," Koski said. "I think it's really important to preserve these last remaining places, and especially our last remaining sacred places, because what are Native people going to do if we don't have any more sacred places? (They help) to reinforce our beliefs and our connection."
Pat Tammen, who accompanied her husband, Bob, said they came all the way from Minnesota for this event because they share a common wish to save the water.
"We're all in this together," she said. "We all want clean water. That's why we're here. And we really respect the tribal sovereignty -- their treaty rights that they've had to fight for."
Another visitor, botanist Steve Garske of Marenisco, Mich., said he has been coming to this area for a long time, not only for recreation but for botanical studies.
"I didn't want to see the mine," he said. "It didn't look like a good idea to me."
The top of Eagle Rock. The Ojibwa people consider Eagle Rock a sacred site. Kennecott is now reportedly putting a fence around the area as it pursues mining operations.
Rosa Musket of Marquette climbed to the top of Eagle Rock after the presentations and took in the view. She said she thought each of the speakers had a wealth of information about the water basin, geology and inevitable outcomes -- based on past histories of mines that continue to impact the environment negatively.
"When Donnie spoke I just wanted to listen and learn," Musket said. "He spoke of what has been prophesied, and I thought all those things are so visible to those who can see. There are too many who are willingly turning a blind eye in spite of the logic."
Musket, along with several other sulfide mine opponents, attended the Marquette County Commissioners Meeting on Tuesday, May 18, to express their views about Native American treaty rights and to challenge some local officials' support of the mine because of job expectations. Musket said public comments at the meeting pointed out that Rio Tinto-Kennecott would be offering very few jobs for local people and that these would not be sustainable.
She noted also that her active participation in the struggle to stop this sulfide mine has to do with future generations.
"I would not be able to look a young person in the eye if I didn't do what I could," Musket said.
* See Sept. 15, 2003 article on Keweenaw Now.
**The KBIC Tribal Council met on Eagle Rock on May 8. They also met with Kennecott on May 14.
***See Bob Tammen's article "Waking Up to the Realities of a Minin Economy" in Headwaters Magazine, Spring 2010. This issue also has articles by Teresa Bertossi and Jessica Koski.
****In The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway (1988), by Edward Benton-Banai, the Seventh Fire is described as "a rebirth of the Anishinabe nation." The seventh prophet is quoted as saying, "'It is at this time that the Light-skinned Race will be given a choice between two roads. If they choose the right road, then the Seventh Fire will light the Eighth and Final Fire -- an eternal fire of peace, love, brotherhood and sisterhood. If the Light-skinned Race makes the wrong choice of roads, then the destruction which they brought with them in coming to this country will come back to them and cause much suffering and death to all the Earth's people'" (p. 93).
For updates on the occupation of Eagle Rock visit http://standfortheland.com.
Update: Setting it straight: In our original posting of this article, we inadvertently made an error in the name of the judge mentioned by Jessica Koski. He is Administrative Law Judge Richard A. Patterson. See this Jan. 25, 2010 article: NWF, KBIC challenge DEQ decision on sulfide mine permits.