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Wednesday, October 05, 2016

UPDATED: Activist historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz to speak at Michigan Tech Oct. 10

Poster announcing visit of acclaimed historian and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. She will give a presentation, with discussion, at 5 p.m. in Michigan Tech's MUB Ballroom A. (Poster courtesy Michigan Tech University)

HOUGHTON -- Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, will speak on "Settler Colonialism and the U.S. Policy of Genocide: Decolonization and Reparations" at 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10, 2016, in Michigan Tech's MUB Ballroom A. The presentation will include discussion. It is free and open to the public.

Before earning both a masters and a Ph.D. in history, Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in an Oklahoma sharecropper family. She describes her mother as "part Indian, most likely Cherokee," who, at sixteen, married her father, who was "of Scots-Irish settler heritage, eighteen, and a high school dropout who worked as a cowboy on a sprawling cattle ranch in the Osage Nation."

Dunbar-Ortiz became an activist for social justice in the 1960s in California. After the Wounded Knee siege of 1973, she began her national and international work with the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the International Indian Treaty Council. She has taught in Native American Studies programs and was visiting director of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico, where she worked directly with Native communities, faculty and students in developing a research institute and a training program in economic development.

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States is the winner of 2015 American Book Award and the 2015 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature. In this book, the word "settler" takes on a colonialist, imperialist connotation -- far from the image of the "courageous" and patriotic, often religious, pioneers so many young Americans read about in traditional school history books. An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States is, as Dunbar-Ortiz describes it, "a history of the United States as experienced by the Indigenous inhabitants." Its narrative form is intended to make this book, which is extensively documented, accessible to the general reader. It is about settler colonialism, genocide and Native Americans' survival of genocide through their resistance.

The book is an eye-opening -- and shocking -- account of the injustice and cruelty against Native peoples perpetrated by political, military and religious leaders and followers. Dunbar-Ortiz describes the theft of land, resources and culture -- from government-sanctioned slaughter to illegal termination or disregard of treaties to forced assimilation inside the Indian boarding school system.

Dunbar-Ortiz seeks to create awareness of the colonial past in order to inspire Native and non-Native Americans to work toward a future in which treaties made with Indigenous Nations will be honored, their sacred sites and ancestral remains will be respected, and their history will be taught in schools.

Dunbar-Ortiz, who lives in San Francisco, is also the author or editor of seven other books.

This event is sponsored by Michigan Tech's Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the Indigenous Peoples' Day Campaign Committee.*

UPDATE: KBIC, KBOCC to host Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz at noon Oct. 10

BARAGA -- The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) Natural Resources Department and Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College (KBOCC) will host a presentation by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz as part of their Lunch and Learn series and the Indigenous Peoples' Day Campaign* at noon on Monday, Oct. 10. The presentation will include a lunch at KBOCC's Niiwin Akeaa Rec Facility on Beartown Road in Baraga. (Inset photo: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Photo courtesy KBIC)

Dunbar-Ortiz will present "The Doctrine of Discovery, Treaty Rights and Native Nations Sovereignty." The "Doctrine of Discovery," which Dunbar-Ortiz writes about in a chapter of her book, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, is a 15th-century papal law presumed to mandate the right of European Christian monarchies to claim non-Christian parts of the world and enslave or displace the inhabitants.

For lunch planning purposes, anyone wishing to attend this lunchtime presentation is asked to RSVP to Valoree Gagnon at

*The Indigenous People's Day Campaign is an ongoing effort to officially recognize Oct. 10 as Indigenous Peoples' Day (replacing Columbus Day). This campaign is aligned with a nationwide effort in several cities and towns throughout the country. It was launched locally by Michigan Tech's Indigenous Issues Discussion Group with the support of Michigan Tech's Center for Diversity and Inclusion and rapidly spread to include the larger Tech community, Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College and many community members from Houghton and Baraga counties.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Three Questions for the Michigan DEQ on the Back Forty Project

By Louis V. Galdieri*
Posted Sept. 27, 2016, on Louis V. Galdieri's blog
Reprinted here with permission

Early in September 2016 the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced its intention to permit the Back Forty Project, an open-pit gold and zinc sulfide ore mine that Aquila Resources, a Canadian company, plans to develop near the headwaters of the Menominee River. In response to the MDEQ’s request for public comment by November 3rd, I’ve submitted these three questions. I’m posting them here so that others might consider them in the run up to the public hearing with the MDEQ in Stephenson, Michigan, on October 6th.**

1. In determining that the Back Forty Project application meets the requirements for approval under Part 632, did MDEQ take into account the cumulative effects of sulfide mining throughout the Lake Superior watershed? We know that the Back Forty project poses a significant risk to the Menominee River all by itself. With the mine in close proximity to the river, a flood, berm collapse, subsidence or a slide could destroy the Menominee River; to answer these serious concerns by asking the company to add a “synthetic, manmade liner under their waste/tailing rock facility,” as the DEQ has proposed, is to trivialize them. Other development that the mine will inevitably bring, including haul routes, power lines, lights, fueling stations, exhaust and machine noise, will leave a large industrial footprint and disturb the Menominee River and its environs in countless ways. At the same time, this mine will heighten the risk, in the long term, of large-scale environmental destruction posed by the resurgence of sulfide mining not just in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but in Minnesota and Canada as well -- all around the lake and throughout the Lake Superior watershed. Has the DEQ completed or participated with neighboring state agencies and tribal authorities in a scientific study of the cumulative impacts of sulfide mining around Lake Superior? Has the DEQ issued guidance on how cumulative environmental effects should factor into its decision-making process for permitting new mines in Michigan?

2. Has MDEQ made any determination about the human rights implications of its decision to allow the Back Forty project to go forward? Human rights are not outside the DEQ’s bailiwick, no matter how hard it may try to exempt itself. Witness Flint. In the present case, the DEQ’s oversight is inextricably bound up with the state’s obligation to protect human rights abuses by third parties. Aquila’s Back Forty project is sure to disturb, and likely to desecrate, lands traditionally belonging to the Menominee and still held sacred by them; and making provisions for archaeological recovery and preservation of mounds and other sacred sites does not adequately address the basic human rights issues involved here. The headwaters of the Menominee River are central to the tribe’s creation story, marking the place where the Menominee people originated. Their very name derives from manoomin, or wild rice, which will not survive changes in sulfate levels or degradation of overall water quality. As tribal member Guy Reiter has said, "It’s no different than if an open-pit sulfide mine was put in Bethlehem for the Christians." Seen from this perspective, the Back Forty is not only an affront to Menominee history; it also puts the cultural survival of the Menominee people at risk. How will the DEQ factor such human rights considerations into its decision-making process?

3. What has the DEQ done to restore trust in its authority, and reassure the Menominee and people living downstream from the Back Forty project in Michigan and Wisconsin that it will exercise appropriate care? The Flint water crisis cast a long shadow, and reinforced the perception that "politics and poverty are big factors" in DEQ decision making. "The same attitude of disregard for citizens and the environment has repeated itself in DEQ decisions across our state for well over a decade," said Marquette attorney Michelle Halley after news of the Flint water crisis broke; controversy over the renewed Groundwater Discharge Permit issued by MDEQ at Eagle Mine and legitimate concerns about lax oversight at Eagle East help make her case. Like all government agencies, the Michigan DEQ should operate in sunlight. Already, however, troubling questions have been raised about the transparency of the Back Forty permitting process. For example, Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, asks why the DEQ appears to be in a "rush" to grant the Back Forty permit. So as things now stand, the DEQ enjoys de jure authority in Michigan under Part 632, but it is unclear whether the DEQ still enjoys de facto authority, which could only derive from demonstrations of regulatory competence. How does MDEQ intend to quell public concern that it is compromised or incompetent, and reassure the public that it is a responsible steward?

Editor's Notes:

* Guest author Louis V. Galdieri is a filmmaker based in New York City. He and fellow filmmaker Ken Ross visited Houghton, Mich., in October 2013 and screened their documentary 1913 Massacre, about the Italian Hall tragedy. Since then he has posted several articles on his blog about present-day mining issues in the Upper Peninsula. (Inset photo: Louis V. Galdieri. Photo courtesy Louis V. Galdieri)

** The public hearing will be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. CST on Thursday, Oct. 6, at Stephenson High School gymnasium, located at W526 Division Street, Stephenson, Mich., to accept public comment on the proposed decisions. Click here for details on making comments.