Saturday, August 28, 2010

MDNRE approves Kennecott's site plan changes without change to mine permit

From Save the Wild UP:

MARQUETTE -- Rio Tinto/Kennecott -- in a letter dated August 4, 2010 -- provided sketchy information describing their recent modifications to their Eagle Project site plan for the sulfide mine on the Yellow Dog Plains.

The company claimed these modifications -- which include moving and expanding several buildings and moving and enlarging the temporary development rock storage area -- will not change the overall footprint of the main surface operation or require any changes to the Mine Permit No. MP 01 2007.

According to Save the Wild UP, a small notice in the Marquette Mining Journal dated August 15, 2010, stated the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE) agreed with Kennecott.

Read more on savethewildup.org.

Click here for Kennecott's letter to the MDNRE.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Updated: Isle Royale Wolf-Moose study helps humans understand ecosystems

Isle Royale wolves in winter. Wolves first came to Isle Royale in about the year 1950 by walking on an ice bridge from Canada. (Photo © and courtesy J. Vucetich. Reprinted with permission.)

By Peter Mayer*

HOUGHTON -- Isle Royale National Park is a wild place, the dwelling of prowling wolf packs and foraging moose. Isolated from the mainland by at least 15 miles of Lake Superior water, the island provides an invaluable setting for passionate researchers. Ecologist John Vucetich and Wildlife Ecologist Rolf Peterson co-lead the Michigan Technological University research team that studies wolf and moose interaction, producing knowledge relevant to understanding ecosystems all over the world.

Isle Royale wolf. (Photo © and courtesy J. Vucetich. Reprinted with permission.)

According to Vucetich, the archipelago is an optimal location for gathering information on species interaction. The limited diversity of species supplies a much simpler ecosystem than is typical of continental environments. Wolves are the only predator to moose and moose comprise 90 percent of the wolf diet. Because of this, the single-prey-single-predator system can be studied intimately.

"It’s important when we manage natural systems in various parts of the world to understand how they work," Vucetich said. "Isle Royale is one of these places that we can watch for a long time . . . it’s a relatively simple system. There are fewer components here."

The simplicity of that single predator system makes it easier to understand what’s going on, he added.

Vucetich, Peterson and their team have generated data that has various biological implications. Their research has produced considerable insight into wolf mortality rates, the functioning of wolf predation on moose, and the effects of wolf predation on prey populations. This information can be applied to the relationships of predator-prey populations in a variety of ecosystems.

The project has been going on for 50 years, the longest predator-based study in the world. Vucetich, who has been working on the team for 19 years, said the study's longevity reinforces its importance.

"The more we study," Vucetich said, "the more we realize how poor previous studies were . . . these first 50 years are going to be different than the next 50 years. It’s kind of a scientific exercise in humility that lets us know that if you watch something for a short while, you may get the wrong impression."

Isle Royale moose. (Photo © and courtesy J. Vucetich. Reprinted with permission.)

When Isle Royale became a national park in 1931, moose had already lived there for 30-some years after swimming across Lake Superior from Canada; but wolves did not inhabit the island for another 20 years, crossing the Lake Superior ice to arrive at their new home. In 1974, the gray wolf population had been confined to a small area of northern Minnesota and Isle Royale.

"Rolf began working on the project in the early 1970s," Vucetich noted. "Over the decades his observations have led to great insights about how nature works -- everything from learning the wolves have a strong preference for old and weak moose to using moose bones to discover that poor nutrition early in life increases the risk of arthritis later in life. Rolf retired from Michigan Tech University a few years ago, but his commitment to the wolves and moose is as strong as ever."**

Wolves are currently on the U.S. Endangered Species List, which protects them as a non-game species. On May 4, 2009, wolves were temporarily delisted in the Western Great Lakes region, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew the delisting on July 1, 2009.

A number of Upper Peninsula sportsmen believe wolves cause deer scarcity in different parts of the region and reduced hunting success. The perceived reduction in deer numbers has stirred a debate over the protective status of wolves. The Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) estimated the wolf population at 577 in the UP, an 11 percent increase over the previous year, according to the 2009 DNRE Wolf Management Report. As long as Isle Royale is studied, models can be produced for sustainable management of wolf populations in the U.P.

The wolf-moose research team is motivated by a scientific and philosophical respect for the natural world as well as an appreciation for the beauty of the island. The importance of Isle Royale as a nature preserve cannot be overstated, Vucetich said.

"The primary value for wolves on Isle Royale (is) the large number of visitors that come to the island and appreciate knowing there are wolves here and appreciate knowing how their populations work," Vucetich said.

For the scientist and the visitor, Isle Royale is truly a gem in the middle of the largest (in surface area) lake in the world. Its beauty is awe-inspiring, its conditions hospitable to its inhabitants, and its value as a nature preserve make it a rare and flourishing legacy of the U.S. conservation movement.***

Editor's Notes:
Update:
Setting it straight: We regret a previous error in this article, which has now been corrected. Both Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich are co-leaders of the research team for the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose study.

* Visiting reporter Peter Mayer wrote this article as part of his work in David Clanaugh's summer journalism class at Michigan Tech. This is Mayer's second article for Keweenaw Now. See also his July 28 article, "Local soccer league promotes diversity, camaraderie among kids from different schools."

** See the Aug. 16, 2010 article "Michigan Tech ecologists link early malnutrition, later arthritis in Moose," by Jennifer Donovan, on the Michigan Tech Web site.

*** For more information on the Wolf-Moose study, visit their updated Web site, The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale.

Lahti condemns Michigan Senate majority for refusal to reappoint Upper Peninsula Natural Resources Commissioners

HANCOCK---State Representative Michael Lahti this week blasted the Michigan Senate Majority leadership for refusing to reappoint two Republican commissioners representing the Upper Peninsula to the Natural Resources Commission and locking UP citizens out of their ability to have a say in policymaking decisions of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE).

Lahti said such political games could leave the UP with no say in important policy decisions on the state's land and water and claimed such a move is against Michigan's constitution.

"The Senate Majority leaders are playing a political game with these appointments; and that means that the Upper Peninsula will not have proper representation and input on decisions that affect our jobs, tourism, and our way of life," said Lahti. "This is exactly the kind of partisan bickering and political infighting in Lansing that so many Michigan citizens are tired of. These ploys have no place in a state government that should be focused on creating jobs and protecting families."

The Michigan Senate Majority last week refused to consent to the re-appointments of Natural Resource Commissioner J.R. Richardson, first appointed in 2007, and Natural Resource Commissioner John M. Madigan, first appointed in 2002. Richardson and Madigan are both lifelong UP residents and the only UP residents on the NRC.

"They've been doing a good job," Lahti said. "They were looking after UP interests. It's the first time we've had two members from the UP on the Commission."

Senate Majority leadership has refused to approve any of the Governor's appointments or re-appointments of Democrats or Republicans to state boards and commissions for individuals whose terms would begin after an arbitrary deadline of September 2, despite having the constitutional right and responsibility to make such appointments. Senate Majority leaders have stated they want these appointments left vacant to be filled by the next governor. Both Mr. Richardson and Mr. Madigan are Republicans.

Both are also fishermen and active in sportsman's organizations.

Richardson, of Ontonagon, a graduate of Michigan Tech University, received the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Partner in Conservation Award in 1993 for his work with the local sportsman's groups on habitat rehabilitation and fish plants and for his management of an award-winning wastewater treatment plant in Michigan. His 31-year career in the paper industry ended in 2007. Since December 2007 he has worked for the New York-based TRAXYS Corporation, which is creating renewable energy alternatives for producing power in the Upper Peninsula.

Madigan, of Munising, is a past board member of the Alger County Fish and Game Alliance and is a member of other hunting and fishing organizations. He also worked as a charter boat captain on Lake Superior while attending college at Northern Michigan University.

The Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC) is a seven-member public body whose members are appointed by the Governor and subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

Editor's Note: Visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE) Web site to learn more about the NRC and its members.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hey, Ho! Come to the Fair!

HANCOCK -- The Houghton County Fair opens at 3 p.m. TODAY, Thursday, Aug. 26, at the Fairgrounds and Houghton County Arena in Hancock.

video

It's always fun to hear the roosters welcoming visitors to the Fair! Here are some blue-ribbon winners from last year's Houghton County Fair. (2009 Video clip by Keweenaw Now)

Today, Thursday, Aug. 26, events include the Kenya Safari Acrobats at 5 p.m. on the Midway, the Open Horse Show -- Speed at 5 p.m. in the Horse Arena and the Miss Houghton County Queen Pageant at 6:30 p.m.

In addition, a Poultry / Rabbit Show will be held at 6 p.m. in the Small Animal Barn. Exhibit Buildings are open from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. today, Thursday.

On Friday, Aug. 27, events and exhibits begin at 9 a.m. and continue through 10 p.m. Highlights include a Senior Citizens' Day Program from noon to 4 p.m. in the Indoor Arena; Swine, Market Steer, Dairy and Beef shows at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon, respectively, in the Livestock Pavilion; Equine Freestyle Demonstration at 1 p.m. in the Horse Arena; Kivijat Dancers at 1:30 p.m. and the Country Drifters at 2:15 p.m. on the Indoor Stage; the Horse Jumping Show at 5 p.m. in the Horse Arena; and the Farm Tractor Pull at 7 p.m. in the Main Event Arena.

On Saturday, Aug. 28, exhibits open at 11:30 a.m., but come early to see the Livestock skill-a-thon at 9 a.m., the Youth Horse Show at 10 a.m. and the Celebrity Horseshow Pitching Tournament at 11 a.m.

Saturday is Kids' Fun Day in the Exhibit Building, starting at noon. A Youth Talent Show will take place at 1 p.m., followed by the Kenya Safari Acrobats at 1:30 on the Indoor Stage. The Acrobats perform several times during the day.* Tom Katalin will also perform at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on the Indoor Stage.

For a real Fair experience, don't miss the Draft Horse Pull at 3 p.m. in the Main Arena and the Livestock Auction at 4:30 p.m. at the Livestock Pavilion.

On Friday and Saturday, Exhibit Buildings close at 1o p.m. but the Midway entertainment remains open.

On Sunday, Aug. 29, the Open Horse Show begins at 9 a.m. with the Draft Horse Show running between breaks and at about 10 a.m. Exhibit buildings are open from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. A highlight event Sunday is the Demolition Derby Car/Minivans at 2 p.m. in the Main Event arena.

*See the complete Schedule on the County Fair Web site.

Pipe organ concert to benefit Keweenaw Heritage Center Aug.26

CALUMET -- A pipe organ concert will take place at 7 p.m. TONIGHT, Thursday, Aug. 26, at the Keweenaw Heritage Center at St. Anne's in Calumet. Thomas Kraska will be the featured organist on the 1899 historical Barckhoff tracker pipe organ.

The historic, restored Barckhoff organ in the Keweenaw Heritage Center at St. Anne's in Calumet. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Mr. Kraska is a resident of Chapel Hill, NC, and a summer resident of Big Traverse Bay. He is a retired chemical engineer and plays the organ part time in his church in Chapel Hill and also in Houghton at the St. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church.

Joining Mr. Kraska will be area musicians Sidney Butler on the harp, Libby Meyer on the violin, Kay Seppala on the flute and vocalist Barbara Lide. This beautiful ensemble will make for an enchanting evening of music.

The 1899 Barckhoff organ restoration was completed in 2009. Recently professional organist Christina Harmon of Dallas, Texas, came to the Copper Country to make a CD recording on the Barckhoff and seven other area historical pipe organs. Ms. Harmon was impressed that so many late-18th- and early-19th-century pipe organs remain in our area and wanted to make a recording of them to expose them to the world. Ms. Harmon discovered these unique pipe organs when she was invited by Pine Mountain Music Festival last summer to perform an organ recital.

Tickets for Thursday evening's performance will be available at the door for $5. The proceeds from this concert will benefit the handicap accessible project at the Keweenaw Heritage Center at St. Anne's.

Click here to read about the 1899 Barckhoff organ restoration.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kennecott/MDEQ bypass Michigan’s Sulfide Mining Law: Legal Brief from Appellants

MARQUETTE -- Save the Wild UP has made available in pdf format the legal brief filed in July 2010 in the Washtenaw County Circuit Court by Appellants -- the National Wildlife Federation, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Committee, the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve and the Huron Mountain Club -- in their case against the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE), formerly the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), and Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company (KEMC).

Save the Wild UP states the following in their Aug. 20, 2010, posting: "This brief is clear and for the most part, quite understandable, with overwhelming evidence that we are not protected at all by Michigan’s sulfide mining laws, because the MDEQ has chosen to permit Kennecott to ignore and violate the principle provisions of that law, and has virtually exempted Kennecott from cleanup of any area outside the current fence line, again in violation of the law’s provisions. As a result, miners, the environment, and citizens of the Upper Peninsula have NO PROTECTION against catastrophic failure of the mine or widespread pollution of streams and lakes. No other news media have published this evidence so far, but every concerned citizen needs to know what is going on."

Click here to read the brief.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Opinion: Reasons to VOTE NO on the Houghton County Justice Center

By George Dewey*

Reason #1 -- It is TOO BIG: the proposed size of 110 beds is not justified.

The data provided by the Justice Center Committee does not support the projections of needed jail size. The data used by the Committee to estimate needed capacity in 2040 uses total Jail and Work Camp population since 1990. In projecting need, every other county in the UP used data since 1996. If Houghton County uses the same range of data as the other UP Counties, the projected need is much smaller.

Using inmate data (both jail and workcamp) since 1996 (same as other counties), the projected average daily inmate population in Houghton County in 30 years is under 60 inmates. If 60 is multiplied by 1.25 to account for classification (male/female), peaking, and maintenance -- a reasonable size jail would be closer to 80 total including work release (since work release numbers were used in the original projections).

The Committee notes that the current county budget will not cover the expected costs of operating the new jail complex. It is possible that the jail is intentionally oversized to provide income from renting out beds to adjacent counties to cover the increased operating costs. If the jail serves adjacent counties as expected, it in effect becomes a regional jail financed by Houghton County taxpayers.


Reason #2 -- It is TOO EXPENSIVE

The cost estimates do not tell the entire story. Borrowing $15 million over 30 years will require taxpayers to pay a total of $15 million in interest over the life of the bonds (assuming interest at 5.5 percent for 30 yrs). The total project cost over 30 years is closer to $30 million.

For a home worth $100k, the expected yearly tax increase is projected to be $44.40 -- so over the thirty-year life of the bonds, the total tax assessment would be $1,333. If your house is worth $50,000, your total tax assessment would be $667; and, if your home or business property is worth $200k, your total tax assessment over the life of the bonds would be $2,664. Business owners and landlords will pass along this new tax, so renters will also pay for this tax increase.

A recent Daily Mining Gazette poll asked readers if "we should increase taxes to avoid laying off teachers." By an overwhelming majority, readers rejected the idea of raising taxes to avoid laying off teachers. Asking Houghton County residents to raise their taxes to build a new jail but not raise taxes to avoid laying off teachers seems like the wrong priority. Asking Houghton County residents to increase their taxes in a time of such financial uncertainty does not make sense!

Reason #3 -- It is the WRONG LOCATION for a Large Regional Jail.

The county should seriously consider creating a regional jail at Camp Kitwen. Many other counties in the UP have similar needs for updated jail facilities. Camp Kitwen has a large bed capacity and would cost less than the current jail proposal. Considering facility costs (the state owes $5 million in Bonds), and remodeling costs (Houghton County jail consultant estimated $5.5 million remodeling costs to convert Camp Kitwen to a jail) -- a regional jail at Camp Kitwen would cost less to build than a new regional jail in central Houghton (Sourcebook, p. 9 -- "The proposed Justice Center is planned and sited to provide a range of future options for regional partnerships, with Houghton County as the lead partner"). The proposed plan shows a jail complex spanning over 1 ½ city blocks with plans for expansion. (Sourcebook, p. 5 -- "It is possible, if not likely, that other counties would be interested in boarding inmates in the new jail as space is available. The proposed Justice Center is sited and designed to facilitate efficient future expansion"). The idea of regional jail in central Houghton that could eventually span two entire city blocks does not make sense!**

The additional operating costs for a Camp Kitwen regional jail that were noted in the Sourcebook could be covered by income generated by renting beds to other UP counties in need of additional jail space. The jobs created by this regional jail facility would help replace some of the local jobs lost when Camp Kitwen closed.

Editor's Notes:
* The author of this article, George Dewey, is a Houghton resident.

** Click here to access the Houghton County Justice Center Committee Sourcebook.

County justice center proponents seek public support

By William Frantz*

This drawing shows the projected design for the new Houghton County Justice Center to be located to the west of the present Houghton County Courthouse. (Photo © 2010 and courtesy Bill Fink Communications, LLC. Reprinted with permission.)

HOUGHTON -- In fall of 2009, the Houghton County Commissioners Office asked their Law Enforcement Committee to conduct a study of the current jail and district courtroom facilities. The committee was asked to recommend the changes required to better serve current laws and state regulations; they were also instructed to inquire on potential locations for the new facility. As a result of their investigation, Houghton County officials came to the official conclusion that virtually nothing in the current jail and courthouse meets current standards and state-mandated requirements. Staff and inmate safety, legal affairs and rehabilitation were found to be sub-standard.

County officials proposed a solution: a justice center, to be built on the county-owned property directly west of the existing court house.

Nearly a year later on a warm Tuesday evening in the Houghton County town hall, the outrage and dispute from taxpaying citizens could be heard. Individuals wondering why other options had not been explored were quickly informed by officials that there were no other plausible alternatives.

"We are just jumping through hoops. Why aren’t other alternatives to this justice center being explored? You (the commissioners) are running us around in circles," said Mary Ann Predebon, a taxpaying citizen of Houghton County opposed to the justice center.

For each public proposal, the commissioners gave a valid reason why the justice center was a better choice. One of the alternative proposals included constructing the new justice center near the county airport, home of the Houghton county jail work camp facility. This possibility was deemed unfeasible because of the distance between the airport and the circuit courtroom as well as the increased risk of inmate transportation.

Another alternative presented at the discussion was a suggestion to add a second floor to the existing jail. The commissioners insist that even with a full second floor, the existing jail footprint of 7,900 sq. ft. is too small for present and future needs. Previous engineering studies have also determined that existing walls could not support a second floor.

"The existing facility is insufficient and outdated," said Marjorie Chandonais, captain of the current Houghton County jail. "If you look at all of the facts, it (the justice center) is the only logical choice for Houghton County."

Houghton County's main jail and Sheriff's Office as they exist today, next to the Courthouse. (Photo © 2010 and courtesy Bill Fink Communications, LLC. Reprinted with permission.)

Chandonais continued to state additional reasons why the current jail must be replaced. "Every year we have state inspections from Lansing that we fail," she noted.

Chandonais added that electrical, plumbing, spatial and safety issues are all mounting reasons why a new jail is needed.

Many citizens wonder why the recently abandoned state prison Camp Kitwen can’t be used as a new county jail. Camp Kitwen has the capacity and standards needed to fulfill state requirements; however, it is mandated by state law that the Sheriff's office must be located within Houghton city limits.

Citizens are also wondering if Houghton County can afford a $15 million dollar facility.

"You make this sound like it's a done deal, like you've made up your minds and we've got no say in this. Don't forget whose money you're spending," said Predebon.

"The average home owner would pay about $30 a year to pay it off, and that rate would drop with time," said Chandonais when asked how much taxpayers can expect to pay each year for the new facility.

Edward Jenich, financial chairman of the Commissioners Office, insists that $30 a year is a small price to pay to invest in the future of Houghton county. Jenich also stated that the $15 million dollar project is the most practical solution to solve the problem permanently.

Despite public opposition voiced at the July 13, 2010, Houghton County Board of Commissioners Meeting, the commissioners voted three to one in favor of putting the $15 million bond issue to a vote on the Nov. 2, 2010, Election Ballot.**

Although the proposed justice center currently looks like the most viable option, there has not been an official decision. Houghton County commissioners hope to have the issue settled by Fall of 2010.

For more information on the progress of the justice center, as well as the schedule of meetings for presenting the project to the public and local city, village and township officials, please visit http://www.houghtoncounty.net.

Click here for the Report of the Justice Center Study Committee, which is a Power Point presentation including more photos by Bill Fink Communications, LLC.

Click here to access the Houghton County Justice Center Committee Sourcebook, which has many details on the project as well as diagrams showing the proposed design.

Editor's Notes:
* Guest reporter William Frantz wrote this article as part of his work in David Clanaugh's summer journalism class. This is Frantz's second article for Keweenaw Now. See also his July 14, 2010, article "MTEC Smart Zone celebrates grand opening of Michigan Tech Lakeshore Center."

** Click here for the minutes of the July 13, 2010, Houghton County Commissioners meeting.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Audio interview: Pewabic Garden cultivates community

The Pewabic Street Community Garden in Houghton offers city residents an opportunity to plant both vegetables and flowers and to tend and harvest their own garden plot right in the city. (Photo by Keweenaw Now taken today, Aug. 23, 2010)

By Eric Rosenberg

HOUGHTON -- For the past four years, the Pewabic Street Community Garden has existed as a way for members to get out a little in order to enjoy the benefits of raising one’s own plants alongside those of one’s own neighbors.

The website for the group describes the garden as "a volunteer organization that provides friendly gardening spaces to the surrounding community."*

The Pewabic Street Community Garden is located near the Houghton County Courthouse in Houghton. (Photo by Keweenaw Now taken today, Aug. 23, 2010)

To learn more about where the garden has been, where it is now, and where it may go in the future, I spoke with Sarah Cheney and Elena Busova, both of whom have been with the garden since the beginning. The report can be heard by clicking below.



Click above to hear the report on community gardens, in particular the Pewabic Street Community Garden. Audio clip © 2010 and courtesy Eric Rosenberg.

* The Pewabic Street Community Garden blog has more information for those interested, while updates on the Ryan Street Community Garden can be found at http://ryanstreetgarden.blogspot.com. Additionally, the American Gardening Association, and ways to get involved with that group, can be found on their Web site, http://www.communitygarden.org/.

Editor's Note: Guest reporter Eric Rosenberg completed this audio interview as part of his work in David Clanaugh's summer journalism class at Michigan Tech. This is Rosenberg's third article for Keweenaw Now. See also his July 16 article, "Lake Superior Day commemorates the Great Lake July 18," and his Aug. 4 article, "Joe Kirkish offers words for love of language."

Proposed Justice Center to be presented at public meetings

HOUGHTON -- The proposed Houghton County Justice Center will be the topic of public meetings hosted by the League of Women Voters. The program will be repeated at three public meetings at the Portage Lake District Library and one at Calumet Schools to give voters several opportunities to hear the presentation.

The meeting dates are the following:

At Portage Lake District Library: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug.24; 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29; 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28.

At Calumet Elementary School multipurpose room: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6.

Updates of the power point and sourcebook documents about the proposed Justice Center are available on the website www.houghtoncounty.net.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Michigan Tech’s Reading as Inquiry Program creates community connections

By Samantha Stauch*

HOUGHTON -- Today, Aug. 22, incoming students and families will begin to pour onto the Michigan Tech campus. Students are bringing their gaming consoles, clothing and possibly an interesting story about their trip -- maybe a story explaining just how exactly their parents fit those 32 suitcases into the family’s Volkswagen Beetle.

Although these students come from all over the country, even from all over the world, they will share an important experience that can connect them to the community of the Keweenaw as well as to one another -- Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Some will have read the book over the summer. Others may be reading it now and chuckling at its humor while pondering its serious issues. Alexie's novel is this year's choice for the Reading as Inquiry Program.

Each year, incoming students are asked to read a book for this program, which has many diverse and important goals.

"(It) prepares them for college level reading and helps build connections for them. When students meet for the first time they already have something in common and can talk about the book," said Katie Russell, assistant director of Michigan Tech’s COMPASS (Center for Orientation, Mentoring, Parents, and Academic Student Success) and this year’s co-coordinator for the Reading as Inquiry Program.

This year’s book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, centers around a character named Junior, a high school student growing up on a Spokane Indian reservation. Junior decides that he has to make some major changes. The book discusses the many difficulties and successes Junior encounters while taking the steps that could change his life forever.

"I loved the book!" said Beth Wagner, Michigan Tech’s assistant vice president of Student Life. "It is a coming-of-age story and is a good story for incoming students. It is a good story about transitioning."

Some themes covered in the novel may be difficult to discuss. Alexie addresses alcoholism, eating disorders and poverty. The author specifically focuses on difficulties many Native Americans face living on reservations in the United States.

Native Americans living here in the Keweenaw may identify with some of the issues addressed in the novel.

"I grew up here on the reservation," said Lori Muhlig, Michigan Tech's Native American Outreach coordinator for the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. "A lot of what Alexie says about living on a reservation is true."

According to the author’s website, http://www.fallsapart.com/truediary.htm, this novel was based a great deal on Alexie’s own life experiences. The main character, Junior, and Alexie share many parallel characteristics. Both Junior and Alexie are from a Spokane Indian Reservation. Both Junior and Alexie suffer from a condition called hydrocephalus (a condition where there is water on the brain). These similarities along with the clever and often funny cartoons add a very personal element to the writing.

"Alexie is such a good writer and tells stories in a way that moves it along quickly and he’s funny," said Robert Johnson, Department of Humanities professor and co-coordinator of the Reading as Inquiry Program. "(Alexie) takes what might be a bitter issue and makes you laugh about it, but he doesn’t let you off the hook."

Wagner also noted how Alexie engages the reader to contemplate the serious issues beneath the humor.

"I particularly like the author because he’s very introspective," Wagner said. "He doesn’t give anybody a break. He points out the strengths and weaknesses of all his characters."

The process for choosing a book takes about a year, beginning in the fall. A committee is formed that consists of Michigan Tech faculty from all disciplines along with current Michigan Tech students and staff. Throughout the academic year, committee members receive recommendations, review a number of books and narrow the list down to a few contenders. After reading all the books, the committee comes to a consensus on which book will be selected.

The recommendations can come from Michigan Tech faculty, staff, students and community members. One opportunity for students to make suggestions comes at the end of Orientation Week. All new students are asked to take a survey in order to provide feedback about their Orientation experience. At this time they are able to comment on the Reading as Inquiry program and to suggest any books they would like to see the next group of incoming students read.

Along with the official book selection committee, Wagner also headed a second committee, made up of current students that read through this year’s top contenders. The student group’s reading was done in conjunction with the official Reading as Inquiry committee. According to Wagner, this year’s chosen novel was the student group’s first choice as well.

During Orientation week students will have the opportunity to participate in discussion groups. This will be time set aside for a campus-wide discussion about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

These groups will be facilitated by discussion leaders who come from the Student Life staff as well as other members of Michigan Tech’s faculty and staff. According to Johnson, the Reading as Inquiry program is one of the most inclusive programs on campus. About 170 faculty and staff members will lead discussions with about 1200 students.

Chris Anderson, a member of the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, and a current masters student in Applied Science Education at Michigan Tech, will be a discussion leader this year. He appeared to be looking forward to leading a discussion group and gave the impression that he enjoyed reading the novel. Anderson commented that he has re-read it a number of times.

"Choosing this book as a summer reading can help make connections between the community and the university," Anderson said. "We all need heroes and positive role models. This novel has the potential to be planting the seeds for education."

Along with reading the novel and participating in group discussions, students and community members have multiple opportunities to be involved. Copies of the book have been given to the Portage Lake District Library and the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College Library. Finlandia students will also have opportunities to read and discuss the book in some of their classes. On September 14 the author Sherman Alexie is scheduled to visit Michigan Tech campus and will be giving a speech in the Rozsa Theater beginning at 7 p.m. This year a special event will conclude the program: A Powwow will be held at 1 p.m. on Oct. 23 in the SDC (Student Development Complex) Multipurpose room.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian brings to the Keweenaw a unique story of an adolescent who, like many of us, is looking to make a major change. The protagonist's personal journey can bring to light some issues that some readers may not expect. Some individuals may be reluctant to discuss these issues. Regardless, this book holds the potential to make a bridge between the community and the Michigan Tech campus while enriching the education of students.

*Editor's Note: Guest reporter Samantha Stauch wrote this article for David Clanaugh's summer journalism class at Michigan Tech. This is her third article for Keweenaw Now. See also her articles "Portage Library Summer Reading Program: More than just a good read" and "Playtime in the Park means summer fun for kids, parents."