Tribes: Feds have no choice but to stop mining in PenokeesTribal leaders in northern Wisconsin are requesting federal government intervention to stop mining activity in the Penokees. They’re doing that because they say the clock is running out to protect the ceded territory.
By: Mike Simonson/Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
Tribal leaders in northern Wisconsin are requesting federal government intervention to stop mining activity in the Penokees. They’re doing that because they say the clock is running out to protect the ceded territory.
The August 28 letter to President Obama asks to have the Interior Department prepare legal action to protect the ceded territory of northern Wisconsin.
The tribal leaders cite the treaties of 1837, 1842 and 1854 allowing them to hunt, fish and gather, and that the proposed open pit iron ore mine would destroy streams, wetlands, fisheries and wildlife that tribal members need to survive.
Specifically, the tribes say new iron ore mining legislation passed earlier this year takes away environmental protections and strips the Department of Natural Resources of its ability to prevent pollution it says a mine would cause.
The letter alleges that iron ore mining would release arsenic, lead and mercury into the water and that run-off from mining waste would contain sulfides.
One factor is a Senate bill that could make 5½ square miles in mining areas off-limits to the public. Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins says this would kick tribal biologists off the area they’re obligated to protect.
“We’ve seen enough now to understand that state legislators are willing to pressure scientists, are willing to try and restrict access to publicly accessible places that are critical for the data and the objective data-gathering and analysis that are going to be necessary to paint a picture of this eco-system,” he said.
Six tribal leaders ask in the letter to President Obama to stop mining activities to protect the ceded territory. But Republican State Senator Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst, one of the sponsors of the “off-limits” bill, says this is not a place for the feds.
“Well, I sure hope the President doesn’t come in and usurp the state’s ability to manage its natural resources because that’s something the federal government has always delegated to the states,” Tiffany said.
But Wiggins says the difference is, this is state land in the ceded territory, so the U.S. government must act.
“In real time right now, we know what we need and we need intervention because of all of the efforts to obscure and cloud over GTac’s activities in the hydrology and the science of this site,” he said. “We expect from a trust responsibility perspective, we expect the federal government to be there for us and to honor those treaties.”
Directly referring to the new legislation, the tribal leaders from Bad River, Red Cliff, Lac Courte Oreilles, St. Croix, Sokaogon and Lac du Flambeau say the state is trying “legislate away the Tribes’ treaty rights.”
The tribes say the threat to tribal rights and land is immediate, and ask to meet with President Obama as soon as possible.