|Philomena Kebec, attorney
for the Bad River Band of Lake
Superior Ojibwe, responds to state
of WI plans to move forward with
legislation that may allow mining
6 miles upstream from the reservation.
Mike Wiggins Jr.,Tribal Chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, has frequently been in the news over the last couple of years for comment on the contentious mining issue in Wisconsin. Gogebic Taconite Mining (GTac) proposed creating $1.5 billion open pit mine in the Penokee Mountains, a scant 6 miles upstream from the northern reservation on which he lives with his family. Not only is this land protected by federal treaties, but it has also been internationally recognized with both Ramsar and Blue Gold awards. Wiggins has spoken to numerous media sources and committees (in fact he received two other calls from media while we were with him); but the spin and snippets that have made it to the general public have not been reflective of his entire point of view. He was also given limited time and interrupted by a buzzer as he testified before the state’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC). Currently, new legislation is being considered which would seek to replace the failed mining bill which prompted GTac to leave the state in March 2012. Wiggins explains the comprehensive issues with mining in the Penokees from many perspectives including: scientific, water, tourism and tribal views. As Wiggins emphasized, ” we’ve been trying to relay our story, relay our voice…”
Here’s his story.
“Well the concern is that we are seeing maneuvering coming out of Madison that is centering around the same outcomes that we saw legislative initiatives looking to do this past year. And that outcome is essentially the reformation of mining law here in WI. The mining law that was defeated this past year is still sitting on the shelf, and one of the concerns that I have is the fact that Tim Sullivan is leading a kinder, gentler, more inclusive round table effort to roll it out again…this is a concern in and of itself. Why? Because when it is all sifted away, the geologic composition [of the proposed mining site] and the negative environmental impact that would come with mountain top removal would be on the doorstep of our reservation.
That legislation was defeated, but yet to watch it in it’s infancy to start manifesting itself all over again…it’s been difficult.
What has also been very difficult is that over this past year we’ve been trying to relay our story, relay our voice and relay our need for science to accompany the type of decision-making points that the Madison legislators had to consider. All of that was a very emotional journey, because it was us trying to defend ourselves…us trying to protect ourselves from a land perspective and from a water perspective for our future generations…so.”
At the beginning of testimony before the JFC, you asked that your voices “not be minimized and discounted”. Has that been your experience?
“Well, I think fundamentally speaking…the way I look at this is through a filter of environmental justice. We are a small sovereign nation that is 6 miles down wind and down stream from this mining project, so we will be directly impacted in our home. With that being said, it is very simplistic logic. I think of it as neighbors.
If the types of activities in my yard have the potential of causing physical landscape changes to you and your yard – that’s going to be something that I’m going to think through. But more than that, if the types of activities that I am going to be doing in my yard have the potential of causing negative health impacts to you and your children…then we have to visit the wisdom of those types of activities…because my activities would be harming you and others. Wouldn’t you see that as simplistic logic?
I’ve seen this issue with WI in the same way. Not only did we see a disregard for our small indigenous nation here, but we saw legislative initiatives that essentially gave extractive industries, and in this case – GTac, a free pass on environmental degradation. There may not have technically been a weakening of a lot of environmental regulations, but there was a component where extractive industries would not have to be held accountable to the laws. So it was a clever way of taking a circuitous route around (the laws). Then, when mining initiative confronted environmental law – mining interests would always win.”
Video highlights from Wiggins: “Another thing to consider was the absence of science this past year as the legislators debated the mining bill.”
“So in the spirit of transparency, I encourage the mining company to open those core samples up and let’s have some science drive the dialogue, Wisconsin deserves that.”