Environment

In These Times: Keweenaw Bay Indian Community fights mines





In These Times reports on the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of Michigan and its fight against mining activities on treaty lands in Michigan:
For the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), a band of Lake Superior Chippewa with the oldest and largest reservation in Michigan, the lack of federal oversight regarding the tribe’s federally protected treaty resource rights is a growing problem.

“[In] the treaty of 1842, our ancestors preserved rights so that we could always continue our way of life and culture—the right to hunt, fish and gather,” says Jessica Koski, 27, a tribal member with a master’s degree in environmental management from Yale, and the KBIC’s mining technical assistant. “The number one issue here is the risk mining poses to water quality. With no direct federal oversight, we don’t deal with the federal agencies that have trust obligations to our tribe. The state of Michigan has no idea what those trust responsibilities are.”

In March 2012, Koski co-authored a petition that the KBIC submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The petition argues that by allowing Michigan to issue permits for the mines, the United States has failed to fulfill its UN obligations to advance the tribe’s internationally recognized indigenous rights including upholding treaty rights and rights to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

Meanwhile, the KBIC for almost 10 years has been teaming up with local environmental preservation groups to counter the corporate and political interests that currently dominate the UP. In the tribe’s eyes, one of the most dangerous projects is the now fully permitted Eagle Mine, and associated Humboldt Mill. The mine is located 30 miles northwest of Marquette at the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River of Lake Superior, and the mill is located about 25 miles west of Marquette in the Escanaba River Watershed of Lake Michigan. Developed by global mining giant Rio Tinto but recently sold to the Toronto-based Lundin Mining Corp., the Eagle Mine is expected to produce 295 million pounds of copper and 360 million pounds of nickel over its projected eight-year productive lifespan. According to the company website, the real beneficiary will be the environment: This is enough nickel to manufacture 9 million Prius batteries. The tribe argues that groundwater discharges and the significant potential for AMD to be produced by the Eagle Mine pose a direct threat to the water quality of Lake Superior and the affected watershed. Before production, which is anticipated later this year, the Eagle Mine has exceeed current groundwater discharge permit limits at least 47 times.

Get the Story:
John Collins: Undermining the Upper Peninsula (In These Times 3/12)