While the Wisconsin Senate held a hearing in Milwaukee about changes to the mining laws, tribal members of the Bad River Chippewa Indians hosted a community-organizing meeting near Ashland, WI.
The “People of the Chequamegon Bay Concerned about Mining” meeting was held Dec. 14, in Odanah, WI, 330 miles north of Milwaukee. Changes to the state’s mining law would fast-track permits for out-of-state mining corporations to start operations in the Penokee Mountain range of northern Wisconsin.
Gogebic Taconite is one mining company that may benefit from less restrictive mining regulations.
But citizens are concerned about pollution from the mining.
John Patrick, Bad River tribal member, said this was the third meeting held for concerned citizens, tribal and non-tribal, living in the Chequamegon Bay. About 40 people attended the meeting, representing five grassroots organizations in the region.
One focus of concern for the Bad River people is their manoomin (wild rice). This indigenous plant is an ancient food source in the region. Wild rice has a great nutritional value. It’s also remains significant to Chippewa cultural and ceremonial practices today.
The Bad River Chippewa stand to lose one of the best natural wild rice beds if any pollution affects water quality or changes the confluence of Lake Superior and Kakagon Slough.
Esie Leoso, Bad River tribal member, said celebrity Martha Stewart visited the Bad River reservation and toured their renowned wild rice beds. The National Geographic and Outdoor Wisconsin magazines also documented the quality of their wild rice.
“It’s not only how the water flows here, it’s also in how we process it that makes our wild rice the best,” Leoso said.
The Bad River people are pivotal in the battle to protect and preserve the local environment. They are recognized by the federal government and have limited sovereign powers reserved in their treaties with the United States.
Their forefathers reserved rights in a series of treaties with the Chippewa in 1837, 1842 and 1854 for hunting, fishing, and gathering on lands they ceded to the United States. This ceded territory extends from upper Michigan and portions of northwestern Wisconsin and northeastern Minnesota.
Under these treaties, the Chippewa people are guaranteed the right to gather wild rice, berries, nuts, and medicinal plants in the ceded territories. In order for these rights to be meaningful, the resources must continue to be available and healthy to consume.
The Bad River Chippewa tribe recently acquired “Treatment as a State” status from the EPA, so they can set their own water quality standards. These standards are comparable to federal standards and can be higher than State standards.
Grassroots environmental groups are supporting the tribe and are counting on Chippewa treaty rights as a way to protect the region in the fight with the Walker administration ahead.