Monday, September 12, 2011

Updated: Protect the Earth 2011, Part 2: Jessica Koski speaks on mining exploration on KBIC reservation

By Michele Bourdieu

Jessica Koski of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) near L'Anse, Mich., addresses participants at the Aug. 6, 2011, Protect the Earth Great Lakes Community Gathering at Van Riper State Park near Champion, Mich. Koski spoke about exploration for copper, nickel and uranium on and near the KBIC reservation. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

CHAMPION, Mich. -- "Coming Together: Uniting for Strength and Success" was the theme of the 2011 Protect the Earth Great Lakes Community Gathering on Aug. 6 in Van Riper State Park near Champion, Mich. The line-up of speakers -- from Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota -- was evidence of the need for sharing experiences and seeking mutual support.

The speakers described efforts of several grassroots groups around the Great Lakes to protect this great supply of fresh water from a number of mining projects that now threaten a large area rich in minerals.

One of the speakers -- Jessica Koski of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) near L'Anse, Michigan -- spoke about exploration for copper, nickel and uranium on and near the KBIC reservation. She also spoke about treaty rights and land and water protection.

Jessica Koski of KBIC speaks about treaty rights at a teaching event on Eagle Rock in May 2010 before Rio Tinto / Kennecott fenced off the rock for use as the portal to their projected Eagle Mine -- a sulfide mine for copper and nickel near Big Bay, Mich. (File photo by Keweenaw Now)*

Koski, who holds degrees from Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College and Michigan Tech University, recently completed a masters degree in environmental management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She currently serves as Mining Technical Assistant for the KBIC Natural Resources Department. Koski has been involved in efforts to protect Eagle Rock, a sacred Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) site where Rio-Tinto / Kennecott plans to blast a portal for their Eagle Mine project for copper and nickel, possibly this month.

This photo shows recent construction of a portal to the prospective Eagle Mine by Rio Tinto / Kennecott at Eagle Rock, an Ojibwa sacred site. Note cylinder-shaped cover over incline behind construction in foreground. Click on photo for larger version. (Photo taken Sept. 11, 2011, © and courtesy

After greeting the audience in the Ojibwa language, Koski said KBIC staff had recently (on Aug. 5, 2011) visited a site of active exploration drilling by Kennecott on land Kennecott owns within the KBIC Reservation. The site is called BIC (Bovine Igneous Complex). Its geology is similar to that of the contested Eagle Mine on the Yellow Dog Plains. According to Koski, the BIC site's target minerals, or minerals they are considering trying to mine, are metallic sulfides containing copper, nickel and platinum group elements.

"There are global mining interests that are coming to the Great Lakes region and are interested in the rich geology and rich mineral resources that we have here," Koski said, "but this is also a very rich water region -- so it's something that we have to protect."

Here is a video excerpt of Koski's comments on mining exploration and treaty rights during the 2011 Protect the Earth:

During the Aug. 6, 2011, Protect the Earth Great Lakes Community Gathering near Champion, Mich., Jessica Koski, who now serves as Mining Technical Assistant for the KBIC Natural Resources Department, speaks about mining exploration on and near the KBIC reservation and about treaty rights. (Videos by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

Actually Kennecott is exploring at more than one site within the reservation, Koski noted. The following map shows exploration sites in and around the reservation as well as lakes and rivers in the area.

Click on this map for a larger version to see areas of mining exploration (small triangles) within and near the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community reservation. (Map courtesy Jessica Koski)

Koski told Keweenaw Now recently that KBIC did not sell land or mineral rights on the reservation to Kennecott.

"Land and mineral rights on our reservation are complicated due to history," Koski said. "While I don't know that my ancestors knew that the mineral rights would be severed from the surface and many elders and tribal members are still surprised to learn this to this day, that is how it is understood under Western law."

Koski noted the Dawes Allotment of 1887 divided up our reservation into individual allotments, and many of these allotments were unjustly taken by the state government.

"The purpose of this law was to assimilate Native Americans into American society," Koski explained. "Today, many non-Native people have settled on these allotments, and timber companies own some as well. A property ownership map of the reservation is quite complex -- consisting of KBIC land, federal trust land, BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) land, fee land, private ownership, etc."

The tribe does own land directly south of the BIC site, she added.

At least five additional companies are actively exploring for metallic sulfide and uranium mineral deposits in areas around the L’Anse and Ontonagon Reservations within KBIC Home Territory, Koski noted.

She also mentioned treaty rights -- legal documents that still exist today, although they have not been honored as they should be. According to legal scholars, Koski noted, Native American treaty rights -- such as the rights to hunting, fishing and gathering in the ceded territories -- could be a tool for protection of natural resources, including the Great Lakes.

Koski pointed out the recently adopted United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples -- endorsed by the United States -- could be another tool to assert as well, especially Free Prior and Informed Consent.

Koski mentioned two people who have inspired her. One was the late Walter Bressette, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) activist from the Red Cliff Band, who during his lifetime promoted a right to a healthy environment.

"And that's something that I really believe in," Koski said.

While the state permits give the mining companies the right to pollute, she added, we're not given the right to breathe clean air or drink clean water.

What Bressette did was look at the U.S. Constitution, the source and the preamble -- guaranteeing "the right to liberty and justice and well being to ourselves and our posterity, which means future generations," Koski said.

Koski read an excerpt by another person who influenced her -- First Nation (Canada) author Lorraine Rekmans, from This Is My Homeland: Stories of the effects of nuclear industries by people of the Serpent River First Nation and the north shore of Lake Huron, (edited by Lorraine Rekmans, Keith Lewis and Anabel Dwyer, published by the Serpent River First Nation, 2003.)

Rekmans wrote about her "bio-region" as her home -- the place where her ancestors walked -- a homeland she would defend.

"The mining companies may have a lot of mineral rights," Koski said, "but this is where we live. This is our bio-region, so we have a right to state our concerns about development."

Koski also spoke about jobs and the need for sustainable alternatives to mining, challenging the audience to come up with ideas for alternatives:

Jessica Koski speaks about jobs, challenging the Protect the Earth audience to come up with ideas for sustainable jobs for the Upper Peninsula.

During the question period following Koski's talk, Chuck Brumleve, geologist, who is working as KBIC's mining expert, answered a question on uranium exploration, noting Bitterroot Resources -- a Canadian Company whose mineral rights comprise approximately 461 square miles within Ontonagon, Houghton, Baraga and Iron Counties -- has explored for uranium west of the reservation in the Ottawa National Forest. They have three areas of exploration, Brumleve said -- the old Copper Range Mining Co. mineral rights to the north; copper, nickel, platinum exploration around Echo Lake; and uranium exploration further south near the Lac Vieux Desert reservation.

Some uranium has been found in people's wells, but Koski said she hadn't heard of a link between exploration and uranium in well water.

Brumleve pointed out the naturally occurring uranium in Jacobsville sandstone has occurred in some wells.

Another question concerned the status of the Humboldt Mill site, located about 23 miles from the L’Anse Reservation, south of US-41 in Humboldt Township, Marquette County, and within the 1842 ceded territories. The mill was originally an iron ore processing facility for the Humboldt Iron Mine and the nearby Republic Mine from 1954-1979. It consists of a large open-pit lake that naturally filled with groundwater and precipitation. Kennecott plans to use the site to process their ore from the projected Eagle Mine, thus adding 2.5 million tons of tailings to the site.

Brumleve explained the site right now is very polluted. Kennecott's own report indicated 26 contaminants that are migrating off the site.** He noted also that KBIC has requested that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do a Superfund investigation of the site.

Following Jessica Koski's presentation at 2011 Protect the Earth, geologist Chuck Brumleve, who works as a mining expert for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, answers a question on the Humboldt Mill site, which Kennecott plans to use for processing ore from the projected Eagle Mine.

Koski also made available copies of a June 2011 map created by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), showing mines, mineral exploration and mineral leasing sites all around the Lake Superior watershed. The map was produced with funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and was compiled using data from various tribal, federal, state, and provincial sources. Click on this map for a larger version:

This map of Mines, Mineral Exploration and Mineral Leasing in the Lake Superior Watershed was produced by GLIFWC (Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission) and is dated June 21, 2011. Click on map for larger version. (Map courtesy Esteban Chiriboga, GLIFWC Satellite Office, Madison, Wis.)

In a recent article Jessica Koski wrote for a KBIC newsletter, she states the following:

"Over time, tribes have developed the capacity to play a more prominent role in natural resource protection and mining related permit activities. There is also increasing recognition of the sovereign regulatory authority tribes possess, particularly through the federal Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. Under the Montana v. United States (1981) case, it was recognized that tribes have a right to regulate the conduct of non-Indians within their reservations when that conduct threatens or has a direct effect on the political integrity, economic security or health and welfare of its members.

"Currently, the Mole Lake Sokaogon, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, and Lac du Flambeau bands have their own Water Quality Standards; and the Bad River band recently submitted water quality standards for which federal approval is pending. KBIC is preparing to submit an application for TAS (treatment in the same manner as a state) which will then allow the community to establish and enforce its own Water Quality Standards as well."***

Updated: Koski has also been hosting a free monthly community film series, titled "Mining Impacts on Native Lands," in order to provide greater awareness to the social and environmental impacts mining can have on Native communities. The next film, Homeland, Four Portraits of Native Action, will be shown at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 6, at the Ojibwa Casino in Baraga. (Note new date and location.)

Editor's Notes:

* Read about the 2010 Treaty Rights Teaching event on Eagle Rock in our May 19, 2010, article.

** See our updated Aug. 29, 2011, article, "Protect the Earth 2011, Part 1: Walk to Humboldt mill, Rio Tinto-Kennecott projected ore processing site."

*** To read Jessica Koski's article in the September 2011 KBIC Newsletter, click here and scroll down to p. 11.

This is the second in a series of articles on Protect the Earth 2011.

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