Opinion

Opinion: Bad River Band emerges as major foe of mining project





The Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians is leading the fight against the proposed Gogebic Taconite mine near its reservation in northern Wisconsin:
Last September, several hundred people gathered outside John F. Kennedy Memorial Airport in Ashland, a few miles from GTac’s mining site, to commemorate Kennedy’s 1963 speech, which called for legislation to protect the area’s natural resources and promoted its economic potential as a scenic region for recreation. One of the last to speak at the event was Mike Wiggins Jr., the chairman of the Bad River tribe and the mine’s most formidable opponent.

The Bad River fear the contamination of the fish they depend on for food and the destruction of sensitive wild rice beds that they harvest on the coast of Lake Superior. Mr. Wiggins has voiced his opposition to the mining legislation in private meetings with Mr. Walker, led Wisconsin’s tribes in demonstrations at the State Capitol in Madison and allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars of the Bad River tribe’s scant resources to legal fees to fight the mine.

The Bad River and several other tribes assert that the state has no right to permit the enormous mine without their agreement since the site lies in “ceded territory,” an area covering a large portion of Northern Wisconsin where tribal members maintain special hunting, fishing and harvesting rights enshrined in federal treaties. Last June, one of the tribes established an educational camp near the mining site to draw attention to how the mine would violate its treaty rights, as well as to highlight sustainable alternatives to mining. GTac responded to a minor altercation with protesters unconnected to the camp by hiring an Arizona-based private-security firm, which sent guards armed with semiautomatic weapons to patrol the mine site. (The guards have since been withdrawn; the camp is still there.)

In the Chippewa tradition, a decision is made based on how it will affect people seven generations forward. By contrast, the company’s optimistic estimate for the life span of the first phase of the mine is 35 years. Last summer Mr. Wiggins played Governor Walker a recording of Kennedy’s speech. Mr. Wiggins said that the governor appeared indifferent to Kennedy’s words; Mr. Walker has never wavered in his support of the mine.

Get the Story:
Dan Kaufman: The Fight for Wisconsin’s Soul (The New York Times 3/29)

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