Just north of the Mackinac Bridge on March 28, 2015, Native and non-Native protesters carry signs expressing concerns about Michigan environmental issues -- including the state's approval of a land and mineral rights exchange and sale involving more than 10,000 acres of public land for the Graymont limestone mining project, the proposed CR 595 wilderness road near Marquette, the aging Enbridge pipeline threatening the Straits of Mackinac, and fracking. The three-day protest attracted a total of about 100 participants from both sides of the bridge. (Photos by Keweenaw Now unless otherwise indicated)
ST. IGNACE -- Bundled up against single-digit temperatures, Miguel and Anita Levy of Chassell joined protesters near the Mackinac Bridge on Saturday, March 28, 2015. The group of Native and non-Native protesters carried signs to express several concerns -- including the recent land deal approved by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) involving more than 10,000 acres of Michigan public land to benefit Graymont, Inc., a Canadian company planning to construct a huge limestone mining operation in the eastern U.P.*
Miguel and Anita Levy of Chassell display a sign they carried during the March 28 protest near the Mackinac Bridge.
"It's exciting to be doing this -- to be speaking against the selling of Michigan's land," said Anita Levy, a retired elementary school teacher.
Martin Reinhardt, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and assistant professor and chair of Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University, initiated this three-day demonstration March 27, 28 and 29 to cast a light on how the State of Michigan is violating the treaty rights of Michigan tribes and disenfranchising both tribal and non-tribal citizens from their right to clean air, water, and land. A total of about 100 people participated in the protest during the three days despite inclement weather. Fortunately, the group had permission to use the Michigan Welcome Center near the bridge to warm up for short periods during the event.
Miguel Levy, Michigan Tech professor in physics and materials science and engineering, who is interested in indigenous rights, invited Reinhardt to speak at Michigan Tech Feb. 27 on "Anishinaabe Treaty Rights and Education in Michigan." Levy has also joined colleagues and community members in organizing an Indigenous Issues Discussion Group, which co-sponsored Reinhardt's talk along with Michigan Tech Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the Michigan Tech departments of Social Sciences and Humanities.
In addition to the Graymont issue, protesters held signs concerning the aging Enbridge pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac; the proposed wilderness road, County Road 595 near Marquette; and fracking.
Reinhardt said these are issues that concern the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) people in the Great Lakes region because these projects infringe on treaty rights and have sparked their concern.
Preceding the walk toward the Mackinac Bridge, Native participants drum and sing traditional Anishinaabe songs. Seated, second from right, and drumming is Martin Reinhardt, citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and assistant professor and chair of Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University. Reinhardt initiated the protest out of concern for Anishinaabe treaty rights and the environment. Standing, at right, are Kathy and Al English of Trout Lake, Mich., who have actively spoken out against the project, which would be very close to their home.*
Reinhardt mentioned Graymont's mining proposal -- taking public lands for activities that will injure the ecology; the Enbridge pipeline that is in disrepair and should be shut down and taken care of; CR 595 that would destroy wetlands and devastate that area; and fracking that will bring devastation to the water quality, possibly causing earthquakes.
"Every time that they mess around with the public lands -- whether that's timbering or mining concerns -- they're dealing with a set of issues that impact our rights as Anishinaabe people to hunt, to fish, to gather, to have our spiritual ceremonies, to go out and enjoy nature, to educate, recreate," Reinhardt told Keweenaw Now. "We have the right to occupy these territories -- our traditional homelands."
Reinhardt noted also the Anishinaabe teaching of concern for future generations -- of thinking seven generations into the future.
"We as a people have to stand up and we have to say 'no more.' We can be idle no more. If our 'government' is getting in bed with the corporations, well, then we need to take that power away from them and remind them that WE are the government -- the people -- they answer to us," Reinhardt said. "This gathering here, this protest, this rally is really about reminding people that we have the power -- if we only choose to use it."
Martin Reinhardt carries the Anishinaabe eagle staff during the March 28 protest. Next to him, holding the Idle No More sign, is Phil Bellfy of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., a citizen of the White Earth Nation (of Minnesota), who is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against DNR Chief Keith Creagh over the Graymont issue. Gene and Carla Champagne of Big Bay are at left.
"This is not a Native vs. non-Native," Reinhardt pointed out. "This is a reminder to both that we all have rights. When our ancestors signed those treaties, it wasn't just one side signing the treaties. It was both sides. The very fact that people are here in Michigan and they get to enjoy Michigan is because their ancestors signed those treaties as well. Both sides have to be responsible for what our ancestors foresaw as the future of this area. We've got to protect it for future generations."
Phil Bellfy of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., a citizen of the White Earth Nation (of Minnesota), who recently joined Reinhardt in filing a suit against DNR Chief Keith Creagh to ask for an injunction against the Graymont project, also participated in the Mackinac Bridge protest.
Native plaintiffs file suit against DNR Chief Keith Creagh
"We had been trying to get the tribes involved as tribal entities in our Graymont suit, but they decided to take a different approach to it (such as passing resolutions opposing Graymont)," Bellfy told Keweenaw Now. "We, as Native individuals, have more rights than the tribes themselves. So we filed a suit against Mr. Creagh."
Bellfy noted the 2007 Inland Consent Decree essentially federalized the land included in the Graymont land deal, stating that the federal government has jurisdiction over the land as far as treaty rights are concerned.**
"So that's the approach that we're taking," he said. "We're going to go to court based on our treaty rights."
Bellfy said the state of Michigan signed that Consent Decree but doesn't respect it.
"So we decided that Mr. Creagh, the head of the DNR -- he's just a state-level political appointee -- he has no authority to abrogate our treaty rights," Bellfy explained. "They're our rights as human beings to access the resources of that land. And the way the agreements are written up between Graymont and the State of Michigan, we would be considered trespassers on that land. They say it's open to the public, but it doesn't say it's open to the public for the exercise of your treaty rights. You can go and recreate there -- you can hunt there, you can fish there -- but it says all others are trespassers. So we don't accept that."
Bellfy and fellow plaintiffs filed on March 17, 2015, a motion for a temporary restraining order (which was denied) and a motion for an injunction. The DNR had 21 days to respond to the injunction lawsuit. The plaintiffs filed a second, almost identical, motion for a temporary restraining order on April 13. The DNR did respond to that, and Judge Paul Maloney denied the second request for a temporary restraining order on April 16. He also set a date for a hearing on the motion for an injunction, set for 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 29, 2015, 174 Federal Building, 410 W. Michigan Ave., Kalamazoo, MI 49007. ***
This week, on April 21, Bellfy filed a Motion for Default Judgment, noting the DNR did not respond to the injunction lawsuit within the 21-day limit. Bellfy and fellow plaintiffs request that the Court "immediately preliminarily enjoin Defendant (Keith Creagh), or other State of Michigan officers, employees, agencies, subdivisions, successors, or assigns, from approving the land transactions involved in the Graymont-Rexton Project."
The plaintiffs add that the Court should also enjoin the same entities "from approving any land transactions that adversely affect the usufructuary, occupancy, or any other rights of American Indians throughout the 1836 Ceded Territory, throughout the extent of that Territory as it is detailed in the 2007 Inland Consent Decree."****
On Apr. 23, Bellfy posted an update on his Idle No More page on article32.org, stating both Graymont and the State of Michigan have filed actions opposing the plaintiffs' suit.
"What is at stake in this argument is the requirement that the Court grant our 'relief' -- the imposition of a temporary injunction," Bellfy writes. "As I read the law, the state can certainly argue against the injunction, but only after it’s imposed as a result of their failure to respond to our original motion, as was claimed in the other of today’s filings.
"One of the motions I filed today contained a 'request for relief' that the temporary injunction required under the Default statute be 'upgraded' to permanent." *****
Bellfy also noted he and fellow plaintiffs are pursuing these motions against the DNR without the aid of an attorney. He said 55,000 Native people are being affected by the Graymont project.
In an email reply to Keweenaw Now on April 20, 2015, Reinhardt stated, "We are still working on the case and will be seeking assistance from the federal government. It comes down to the fact that the State of Michigan had no authority to deal with Graymont without the tribes' approval. As tribes and tribal citizens, we have rights to the land that cannot be ignored."
Citizens from both sides of bridge participate in protest
Gene and Carla Champagne of Big Bay, who have been active in opposing the state's permits given to the Eagle Mine, and who now oppose the Marquette County Road Commission's renewed plans to construct the wilderness road CR 595, were also at the protest.
Gene Champagne of Concerned Citizens of Big Bay displays his "Yooper" sign during the March 28 protest. A longtime activist questioning the Eagle Mine permits, he has been active recently in opposing renewed efforts to construct County Road 595, a wilderness road (originally intended as a haul road for the Eagle Mine). So far it has not been built because of the Environmental Protection Agency's concerns for wetlands. His wife, Carla Champagne, who attended Rio Tinto's 2012 Annual General Meeting in London, England, to protest the Eagle Mine, also participated in the Mackinac Bridge protest.
An anti-fracking sign caught the attention of Rachell Alley of Traverse City, who stopped after crossing the bridge to check out the protest with her daughter, Sarabeth, and her friend Cindy Gerhard, also of Traverse City.
With Martin Reinhardt and holding a sign that questions the "Pure Michigan" tourism campaign are Rachell Alley (center) of Traverse City; her daughter, Sarabeth; and her friend Cindy Gerhard, also of Traverse City.
"We were just passing through," Alley said, "then I saw the sign that said 'No Fracking.'"
She didn't know about the land exchange in the U.P., Alley added, but was interested because she's been involved in similar issues nationally.
Julianna Richards of Cross Village, Michigan, 30 miles south of the bridge, said she came to the protest because she had met Martin Reinhardt at an event several years ago.
Julianna Richards of Cross Village, Michigan, displays a sign opposing the Graymont land sale.
"I took a group of teenagers to learn, from Marty, about the decolonization diet (what food was like in the past)," Richards said.
She noted she learned from Reinhardt that Native American views on natural food were not very different from her own German-Celtic heritage.
Protesters display signs near the highway just above the Mackinac Bridge on March 28. (Photo © and courtesy Valerie Jean of Detroit.)
During the protest on Saturday, participants were invited to form a circle of unity and speak about their own concerns. Photographer Valerie Jean, one of the organizers of DCATS (Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands) came all the way from Detroit with other DCATS members to show solidarity with the protest.
Green Party supporters Linda Cree and her daughter, Aimée Cree Dunn, were also at the protest.
Linda Cree posted this comment on Facebook: "It was COLD Saturday, but -- politicians and policy-makers take note -- there was overwhelming support from people passing by on the highway and reading our signs!"
Martin Reinhardt speaks and invites others to speak about their concerns or why they came to the protest. At far right is photographer Valerie Jean of Detroit, who spoke about DCATS and their work against tar sands oil and petcoke, a tar sands oil waste product that pollutes Detroit neighborhoods. Also pictured are, from right, Green Party supporters Linda Cree, her daughter Aimée Cree Dunn and Aimée's son, Forest. Aimée is on the faculty of the Center for Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University.
Enisha Hill, a Six Nations Mohawk member, of Hannahville, Mich., came with friends to the protest.
Enisha Hill, a Six Nations Mohawk member, of Hannahville, Mich. (near Escanaba), is pictured here at right with her friend Kristy Phillips and Kristy's daughter, Adeline McKinny -- Potawatomi members from Shawnee, Oklahoma.
Asked why she came to the protest, Hill replied, "We're tired of a country run on corporate greed and money and not by the people."
Paul Yarnell, a Korean War veteran and Métis member from Turtle Mountain, North Dakota, was proud to carry the eagle staff as the group set out from the Welcome Center for another walk to the protest point near the bridge.
When Martin Reinhardt asked for a veteran in the group to carry the eagle staff, Paul Yarnell, a Korean War veteran, offered to carry it. Yarnell is a Métis member from Turtle Mountain, North Dakota. Walking with him is Scott Wyzlic of Mackinaw City, a citizen of the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians.
Chauncey and Nancy Moran and their son, Jeremiah, of Big Bay, active members of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, also joined the protest. Nancy noted the Eagle Mine has completely changed their wilderness life style and threatens the water quality in the area.
Jeremiah Moran, son of Chauncey and Nancy Moran of Big Bay, who has spoken out at public meetings concerning the Eagle Mine since a very young age, is pictured here during the protest. The Mackinac Bridge can be seen in the background. Some passers-by on the highway tooted their horns in support of the protesters.
After the protest on Saturday, Reinhardt took a tour of the Graymont site with Al and Kathy English of Trout Lake, Mich., who have opposed the project and spoken out against it at public meetings.*
Kathy English participated in the protest all three days. She said she was happy to meet people she had been corresponding with on email and Facebook concerning the issue.
"We are encouraged by the support we received as evidenced by all the horns blowing and the thumbs up while we were there," she told Keweenaw Now.
On Sunday, the third day of protest, despite severely cold weather, about 20 people showed up for the event until they were forced to end it early because of the blowing rain and snow.
On Sunday, despite the cold, protesters drum and sing before beginning their walk toward the Mackinac Bridge. (Photo © and courtesy Kathy English)
Reinhardt posted this comment on Facebook on March 29, 2015: "I am very proud of all those who sacrificed their weekend to come stand out in the freezing cold to take a stand for our Mother the Earth. I was able to take a tour of the area where the proposed mine would be established (miigwech to Al and Kathy English). It is obvious that most of the locals are opposed to the mine and the ones who are not have been bought off by Graymont, or hope to be soon. It is shameful that Graymont has used its megawealth to buy the vote of people in local government, the local school system, and some local organizations and business owners. It is not too late to give their money back and do what it is right. Don't sell your community's soul to Graymont!"
Reinhardt is already planning a second protest at the Mackinac Bridge for Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015, the day before the Labor Day Bridge Walk. Stay tuned ...
* UPDATE: According to a March 20, 2015, DNR press release, the details of the transaction include the direct sale of approximately 1,781 acres of state-owned land and 7,026 acres of mineral rights to Graymont; a land exchange whereby Graymont will acquire approximately 830 acres of state-owned land; and a 10-year option secured by Graymont to acquire an easement over a maximum of 55 acres of state-owned land within an identified area of 535 acres.
See our Feb. 22, 2015, article, "DNR Chief approves mineral rights exchange with Graymont but delays decision on 10,000-acre land transaction; residents, groups express opposition to Graymont project."
** Click here for the 2007 Inland Consent Decree. See also our March 18, 2015, article, "Native American groups seek injunction against MDNR on Graymont land transfer proposal."
*** Click here for the judge's denial and order for the Apr. 29 hearing.
**** Click here for the Affidavit In Support Of Motion For Default Judgment.
***** See the Idle No More page on More Graymont Filings for more details and comments. See also Citizens Against the Rexton Project Facebook page.
Click here to visit the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) page with links to documents concerning the Graymont land transaction.
See Graymont's project map here.