From 'Walleye Wars' to 'Taconite Troubles' and 'Copper Quarrels'

May 25th, 2014, 4am

It was 9°C. The wind was calm.

The native tribes of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin have allied with environmentalists.

Too often the extracting industries begin mining operations with quick sweetheart deals from politicians striving to curry the favor of the electorate with some few jobs gained. The public gets a ‘spit and a hand shake’ promise about the health of their land and homes. Often later, when environmental problems emerge, industry says “It’s not our fault or responsibility! Prove it.”

In the US Constitution the American Indian Tribes are sovereign nations and the federal government must deal with them by treaty. Treaties give the Anishinabe people of the Lake Superior Chippewa the right to hunt, fish and gather wild rice outside their reservations through northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. Suddenly, these treaties may affect how we mine and refine iron and many precious metals in Minnesota and Wisconsin. For a couple centuries, Presidents, Congress and courts winked at the Constitution and merely ignored these native treaty rights. Now the tribes are winning back these rights in the courts with some surprising ramifications.

These newly enforced rights may have important positive environmental implications. Natives have the right to rice and fish which implies government must manage the land and waters so the fish and rice exist that can be harvested. As international treaty obligations, governments at all levels can no longer look the other way when industry may pollute.

The nascent copper mining industry in Minnesota recently pitched a whiffled environmental impact statement to the Minnesota DNR (Department of Natural Resources) which returned it with a stinging hard ball throw. The DNR recognized, I suppose, the environmental team had recruited some formidable, new players with power in the judicial court and not just in the court of public opinion and they had better not try to finesse this hand.

The Governor of Wisconsin is trying to bully a new Taconite mine into existence just south of Lake Superior near the lands of the Bad River Ojibwe with all the arrogance he can muster. The Bad River news? The natives want real environmental safeguards and not just a few beads and blankets.

So what began as a ‘Walleye War’ in 1986 with some sport fisherman at boat landings protesting Native American fishing practices may now, in 2014, stall environment unfriendly decisions in mining company boardrooms and governor’s mansions: Taconite Troubles and Copper Quarrels!

I wonder if folks in fracking country, smelling methane in their wells, and the people of Appalachia, finding acid in their streams and mountain tops in their valleys, might wish they had a native with treaty rights living next door?

Shu said thanks.

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Ken Jackson

An avid outdoors man. Retired and retiring, living on the shore of Lake Superior

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