By Michele Bourdieu
On Tuesday, Sept. 28, supporters of sulfide mine opponent Charlotte Loonsfoot rally in front of the Marquette County District Courthouse, where she presented a "no contest" plea against a charge of trespassing on Native American ceded land leased to Rio Tinto-Kennecott for the Eagle Project sulfide mine. (Video clip and photos by Keweenaw Now)
MARQUETTE -- A Rally of support welcomed Charlotte Loonsfoot, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) member, as she emerged from the Marquette County District Courthouse in Marquette on Tuesday morning, Sept. 28.
Supporters greet Charlotte Loonsfoot, third from right, outside the Courthouse, shortly after she received a 30-day delay of sentence for her "no contest" plea against a misdemeanor trespassing charge. Also pictured are, from right, Laura (Furtman) Gauger of Duluth, Cynthia Pryor of Big Bay, James Haun of Skanee and KBIC elder Betsy Robillard Ross.
Loonsfoot was arrested for trespassing on May 27, 2010 -- while camping and praying on Eagle Rock, an Anishinaabeg (Ojibwa) sacred site, located on public land leased by Rio Tinto-Kennecott for their Eagle Project sulfide mine.
After entering a plea of "no contest," Loonsfoot received a 30-day delay of sentence on the misdemeanor trespass charge, which will be dismissed if she respects all the terms of the one-month probation.
A TV-6 reporter interviews Charlotte Loonsfoot outside the Marquette County District Courthouse on Sept. 28 after she presented her plea agreement against a charge of trespassing.
Loonsfoot's defense attorney said the plea allowed her to admit no wrongdoing.
"I decided to accept the plea agreement I offered to the prosecutor after seeing the outcome of Cynthia Pryor's case, held earlier this year," Loonsfoot said.
Pryor, arrested last April for trespassing on state land that Kennecott considered leased to them, despite the fact that the legality of permits required for the lease was being contested, asked for a jury trial and was found guilty after the judge refused to allow the evidence of the permits and lease into her defense. Pryor received a six-month delay of sentence.
Assuming Pryor's case would likely serve as a precedent, Loonsfoot said she chose the "no contest" plea since she didn't expect she would have a fair trial.
Loonsfoot appeared to be cheerful and glad to see her supporters
"It's just the beginning," she said. "I plan to run for a seat on the (KBIC) Tribal Council to try to change things from within. I feel the Council could be doing more to try to enforce our rights ... on treaty lands and they're not, probably because of prior commitments."
Loonsfoot said she plans to keep fighting the mine, which is located on ceded territory. Under Native American treaty rights, Loonsfoot and other KBIC members claim the Anishinaabeg people should be allowed to hunt, fish and gather on ceded territories.
This banner marks the entrance to a second camp that Charlotte Loonsfoot and family members set up recently, with permission, not far from Eagle Rock, on private property not belonging to Kennecott. Although they are not presently camping there, the banner remains.
Loonsfoot and another KBIC member, Christopher Chosa, were among six people at Eagle Rock when police arrived there on May 27 and asked them to leave. Four protesters left the site when asked, while Loonsfoot and Chosa were not willing to leave immediately and were arrested.
According to the Marquette Mining Journal, Chosa pleaded "no contest" in July and received a six-month delay of sentence and six hours of community service in early September. His case will also be dismissed if he fulfills the terms of the six-month probation.
Kennecott, working with local law enforcement, removed the camp structures and a community garden planted by campers at Eagle Rock.
Eagle Rock is now fenced off and nearly hidden behind high berms as Rio Tinto-Kennecott prepares to turn it into the entrance to an underground mine for a large nickel and copper ore body located under the nearby Salmon Trout River. Sulfide mine opponents believe the river, which empties into Lake Superior, is in danger of potential pollution by Acid Mine Drainage.
The area around Eagle Rock is now a construction site surrounded by a fence and high berms. No trespassing signs can be seen from the Triple A Road.
Laura Gauger (formerly Furtman) came all the way from Duluth, Minn., to support the Rally for Loonsfoot.
Gauger is a former resident of Wisconsin who is still fighting Kennecott Minerals because of water pollution caused by the company's Flambeau mine near Ladysmith, Wisconsin. Gauger also camped out at Eagle Rock last May with Loonsfoot and other supporters, both Native and non-Native.*
"It was important to me to show solidarity wih my friends in the U.P. who are fighting Kennecott," Gauger said.
She noted the similarity between Kennecott's Eagle Project and their Flambeau mine is that both are metallic sulfide mines, although the Flambeau mine was an open-pit type and the Eagle mine is intended to be underground.
"The Flambeau mine is yet one more example of how no one has mined a metallic sulfide ore body without polluting the water. That's important for the people of Michigan to know because Kennecott is holding up that (Flambeau) mine as their calling card to get in here," Gauger explained. "I want the people here to know that they have friends in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ontario and Manitoba who stand solidly beside them in fighting Kennecott -- and we're going to beat this thing."
Gauger presented evidence of stream and ground water pollution at the Flambeau mine when she spoke at the 2009 Protect the Earth event in Marquette. She, Professor Al Gedicks of the University of Wisconsin LaCrosse, and the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC) are plaintiffs in a lawsuit being filed against Kennecott Minerals and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The case is not yet in court.
"We continue to consult with attorneys and our scientific consultants," Gauger explained.**
Wisconsin has a moratorium law on sulfide mining.***
Green Party First District Congressional candidate Ellis Boal, who drove up from Charlevoix to attend the Rally, said it was Gauger who told him about Kennecott's Eagle Project last spring when he was vacationing and hiking in the U.P. He also talked to Greg Peterson, journalist for Indian Country Today, who has written several articles about the Kennecott sulfide mine. Since then Boal has opposed the Kennecott Eagle Project sulfide mine as part of his official campaign platform.
Green Party Congressional candidate Ellis Boal, second from left, chats with Amy Conover, third from left, while Rally participants wait outside the Marquette County District Courthouse to greet Charlotte Loonsfoot after her court appearance on Sept. 28. Also pictured are Catherine Parker, left, and Jon Saari, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) Board member, right.
"No amount of regulation is going to solve the problems of the Kennecott mine," Boal said. "Kennecott is the camel's nose under the tent."****
Save the Wild U.P. Director Kristi Mills helped organize the Rally to support Loonsfoot.
"It's not over," Mills said. "This is another stepping stone on our way to protecting the U.P."
Save the Wild U.P. Director Kristi Mills, left, leads Rally participants in a march near the Marquette County District Courthouse on Sept. 28. Gail Griffith, right, peace activist and sulfide mining opponent, carries a blue and white United Nations flag and a peace flag.
Also among the Rally participants was Jon Saari, Board member of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC).
Saari said he attended the Rally to show "solidarity with Native Americans willing to step forward to protect their treaty rights and the water that supports us all."
James Haun of Skanee, a former United Auto Workers union chairman, carried a sign and a flag and wore a tee-shirt protesting Rio Tinto as a kind of British colonialism. He expressed concern about the company's present cutting of trees along the roads leading to the Eagle mine site.
As Rally participants march near the Courthouse, James Haun of Skanee displays his sign, flag and tee-shirt protesting the two British corporations, Rio Tinto and BP. At left, foreground, is Rachelle Giuliani of Marquette, carrying a sign in support of Charlotte Loonsfoot.
"The 510 and the Triple A on the eastern end going into Big Bay used to have a canopy like a golden tunnel surrounding this road this time of year," Haun said. "Now look at it. It's been cut back on both sides of the road. Stumps prevail, and it'll never be the same as it was in our lifetime. Color tours as we knew them are over. That was one of the special areas to drive through."
At the intersection of County Road 510 and the Triple A Road near Big Bay, Rio Tinto-Kennecott has cut trees along the sides of the road, destroying the tree canopy (some of which remains along the extension of 510, at the left of the photo). Click on photo for larger version.
Rachelle Giuliani of Marquette said she joined the Rally as a member of the human race.
"I'm concerned about the health and welfare of all the people who live here, so I stand for well being, health and peace for all -- including the construction workers, the miners and Kennecott itself," Giuliani said. "I like that Lakota saying: 'We're all related.'"
Giuliani generously treated the Rally participants to a breakfast at the Sweet Water Café after the Rally.
* See our May 9, 2010 article, "Native, non-Native campers on Eagle Rock oppose sulfide mine."
** See details on Laura (Furtman) Gauger's presentation at the 2009 Protect the Earth workshops in our Aug. 5, 2009 article, "Protect the Earth 2009: Part 1."
*** Click here for a description of Wisconsin's 1997 Mining Moratorium Law.
**** Ellis Boal is running for the Congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak. Other candidates include Republican Dan Benishek and Democrat Gary McDowell. Watch for our interview with Ellis Boal, coming soon.