Jessica Koski, mining technical assistant for the KBIC Natural Resources Department and instructor of Native Studies at Ojibwa Community College, presents Four Corners: A National Sacrifice Area, last month's film in the Mining Impacts on Native Lands Film Series, in the Chippewa Room of the Ojibwa Casino in Baraga. Another film in this series, In the Light of Reverence, will be shown here and at the Ojibwa Senior Citizens' Center on Wednesday, April 11. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)
By Michele Bourdieu
The Mining Impacts on Native Lands Film Series will feature two screenings of In the Light of Reverence, a film about Native American religious freedom rights in relation to mining and other developments throughout the U.S., on Wednesday, April 11, in Baraga. The film will first be shown at 12:30 p.m. at the Ojibwa Senior Citizens' Center. At 5 p.m. a potluck supper will precede the 6 p.m. showing of the film in the Ojibwa Casino Chippewa Room.
Ten years in the making, In the Light of Reverence explores American culture’s relationship to nature in three places considered sacred by native peoples: the Colorado Plateau in the Southwest, Mount Shasta in California, and Devils Tower in Wyoming. Rich in minerals and timber and beloved by recreational users, these "holy lands" exert a spiritual gravity which pulls Native Americans into conflicts with mining companies, New Age practitioners, and rock climbers. Ironically, all sides see themselves as besieged. Their battles tell a new story of culture clashes in an ancient landscape.
In the Light of Reverence juxtaposes reflections of Hopi, Wintu and Lakota elders on the spiritual meaning of place with views of non-Indians who have their own ideas about how best to use the land. The film captures the spiritual yearning and materialistic frenzy of our time.
This film series is hosted by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) Natural Resources Department Mining Outreach and Education Program.
Four Corners film kicks off discussion of potential impacts on local communities
The March film in the series, Four Corners: A National Sacrifice Area, which tells the stories of Native people impacted by strip-mining and uranium mining and milling, was preceded by a potluck and brief presentation by Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK), who announced their "Mining Education and Empowerment Project" at the event.
FOLK members have formed an action research committee that has begun its investigation of the risks and benefits of new mining. The group announced plans for an outreach and education program to provide information about mining to local citizens. Details of their project are available in their March newsletter, on the FOLK Web site.*
FOLK members have been attending the film series at KBIC and have joined tribal members and other residents participating in the discussions following the films.
This slide in the presentation related to the Four Corners film gives examples of negative economic impacts on mining communities.
Four Corners: A National Sacrifice Area, a film from the 1980s, examines Peabody Coal Company’s massive Black Mesa strip mine and the history of uranium mining on the Colorado Plateau, including the 1979 Church Rock tailings spill on the Navajo Reservation, where high levels of lung cancer and birth defects have resulted from decades of radiation exposure.
Spokespersons for Navajo, Hopi and Mormon cultures were interviewed in the film. They spoke of the sacrifice of human health as well as the sacrifice of their way of life and the pollution of much needed water in the arid Southwest.
Jessica Koski, mining technical assistant for the KBIC Natural Resources Department and instructor of Native Studies at Ojibwa Community College, presented the film and led the discussion afterwards.
During her presentation preceding the March film, Jessica Koski points out several ongoing or proposed mining projects on a map of the Upper Peninsula. Click here for a larger version of this map.
Despite the age of the film, people in the audience drew parallels with the new wave of resource extraction in the Western Upper Peninsula -- mining projects as well as new logging for the biomass industry.
"The film was 30 years old but very well done and still very relevant today," said Doug Welker, a FOLK member. "I was also pleased with the amount of concern about likely pollution and worker health issues at the Warden Electric Power Company Plant in L'Anse."
Margaret Comfort of Michigamme and a member of Save the Wild UP and WAVE (Water Action Vital Earth), two groups opposing the Rio Tinto - Kennecott Eagle Mine, said she felt saddened by the film.
"Here we are, THIRTY YEARS LATER," she wrote in an email following the film event. "I don't feel we've made much progress -- much spiritual growth, much enlightenment."
The film showed how Navajo uranium miners were exposed to pollution without any idea of its potential impacts on their health. Many of them died of lung cancer. While that may have been an extreme case of environmental injustice in the 1980s, communities that are promised much needed jobs by mining companies today still need to be better informed -- not only about safety and environmental impacts but also about the economic facts behind the "boom and bust" mining industry.
Scott Rutherford of FOLK pointed out the need for a study on "hidden costs" like those described in the film -- on how much of the value of the minerals extracted will go to the local community and whether the new jobs will disrupt other jobs.
Chuck Brumleve, a geologist working for KBIC, who attended a recent public hearing on the Orvana Copperwood mine project, now in the permitting stage, commented that many people who got up at that meeting and said they were "for the mine and for the economy" didn't have much information on the technical facts about the mine. **
"Nobody looks at the cumulative effects (of mining)," said David Mayo, a KBIC tribal member concerned about treaty rights.
Locked Out film offers background on Rio Tinto and workers
The February film in this series, Locked Out, depicts Rio Tinto’s treatment of workers and communities in the U.S. and around the world.
While the film is centered on Rio Tinto's four-month lockout of unionized workers at their borax plant in Boron, California, the site of the second largest open pit mine in the U.S., the film also shows some examples of Rio Tinto's poor record in respecting human rights (especially on the Papua New Guinean island of Bougainville) and the environment (interviews with UP residents concerned about the Eagle Mine).
Jessica Koski gave an update on UP mining projects preceding the showing of this film.
At the Ojibwa Senior Citizens' Center in Baraga, Jessica Koski shows maps of UP mining projects in her update preceding the film Locked Out, shown last February as part of the Mining Impacts on Native Lands Film Series.***
KBIC member Bruce LaPointe attended the screening of Locked Out and offered his reactions to Keweenaw Now.
"The film indicated to me that Rio Tinto has no respect for their own workers and likely never will," LaPointe said. "Kinda treat them like ants. I once overheard the owner of a pretty successful excavation company working on one of my projects refer to his crew as Ants -- ANTS? I never looked at him in the same light again."
La Pointe noted also that the film showed there is power in numbers. Involving the unions very early and often may be the key, he noted.
"There is power in numbers and it would be wise for us to call on the phone on all others who have had to stand up to this power house to come join in this effort as well as any other localities that have cases pending or are on Rio Tinto's radar screen," La Pointe said. "Our money might be well spent paying to get these folks here and taking care of them while here fighting this battle. As Rio Tinto begins to find this kind of opposition wherever they treat they will back down."
La Pointe added, "To find a business with this much security in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is simple overkill. How ridiculous!"
Fran Whitman of FOLK also commented on film Locked Out.
"It was a powerful and well done film that showed the true colors of Kennecott and how they really regard workers," Whitman said. "Also (it showed) to what lengths and actions the company will go to maintain an extremely positive bottom line. These actions include equipping and subsidizing government's armies and participating in the killing of innocent citizens."
Linda Belote of Houghton observed the movie Locked Out did not say anything --positive or negative -- about environmental impacts of open pit mining on the borax workers.
"The miners did not seem to think it was polluting the air, the water or their lungs," Belote note. "We wondered if this was the case. What the movie did show, and showed very well, was the huge amount of resistance and determination it took on the part of the miners and all the huge network of union supporters required to break the lock out. It really didn't get broken until the longshoremen stopped loading their containers onto ships. This is in part encouraging -- the unions stood together and were able to face down Rio Tinto. There IS power in numbers, but at the same time it was very discouraging. The poor inhabitants of Bougainville did not have such breadth of support and their story was very tragic." ****
* Click here to read about FOLK's "Mining Education and Empowerment Project" in their March newsletter.
** See Steve Garske's March 12, 2012, article about this March 6, 2012, public hearing on the Orvana Copperwood mine.
*** Visit the GLIFWC (Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission) Web site for several maps of mining projects in the Great Lakes basin.
**** Rio Tinto has been accused of genocide for its actions resulting in thousands of deaths on this South Pacific island, where the company had a gold and copper mine in the 1980s. Click here to read about a lawsuit accusing Rio Tinto of crimes against humanity.