Migi zii wa sin is one of our “high places” where we have historically, and in recent years–despite a traumatic history of colonization and religious oppression–have continued to conduct fasting, ceremony and prayer in peace.
But, the fact of the matter is that resource colonization is alive and well, right here, right now. On what moral grounds has a foreign mining corporation been permitted the right to disrupt my people’s culture and environment, and blatantly blast beneath our place of great spiritual and historical significance?
On July 20th, myself and other women from my community took a small group of tribal high school youth on a site visit to the Yellow Dog Plains. We gathered lots of wild raspberries and saw traditional trail marker trees of ancestors. We visited and drank from some of the freshwater springs that help feed the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River. It was the most clean, cool, refreshing water I have ever tasted.
To understand that we live in a world today that is growing increasingly water scarce, it is such a blessing to experience a place where there still exists surface water so pure. Unfortunately, these springs are hydrologically connected to an aquifer that is to be injected with at least 20,000 gallons per day of partially treated waste water from the Eagle sulfide mining project.
I worry that a lot of our reserved treaty resources in this area–including plants, wildlife, and fish–that are of value to us as Anishinaabe people and still used by many of us to sustain and revitalize our culture and subsistence, will not be safe for us to consume.
On our site visit, we asked the students what they wanted to do and they unanimously agreed they wanted to visit Migi zii wa sin, Eagle Rock. It was a very emotional experience for some, and the students asked a lot of questions about why things were happening. Instead of feeling confident in our basic religious freedom and human right to visit our place of worship, we were made to feel as though we were an inconvenience or some spectators going on a mine tour.
On August 4th, I was honored to be invited to participate in a special ceremony on Eagle Rock. However, when I arrived, I had to respectfully and frustratedly demand a right to be able to walk up to the ceremony without going through Rio Tinto’s process. I had to sign in and write “Sacred Ceremony” under the box describing the purpose of my visit. I insisted on not going into their guard office and not waiting for an escort, I was anxious to arrive before the ceremony commenced. They sent a worker to walk me and another female relative, and we arrived just in time to assist in a water song.
Imagine…you are going to Church. But before you go, you must get permission from a company who is doing heavy construction all around and beneath. You rightfully oppose the construction and the the unjust process that ignored your voice from the very beginning. You disagree because it poses significant risk and harm to your waters, environment and health.
So you have permission and have a set time for when you can visit your Church. Then, image that you are first escorted to a guard office, read liability legal language, and asked to put on a corporate hard hat, safety googles and fluorescent vest. Then, you are not free to proceed on your own to your Church. A company official, or two, have to walk you to your Church.
As you are walking, you are not really sure whether it is a completely safe place to visit as you can smell unfamiliar things that may be chemicals and explosives lingering in the air. But, it is your Church, and not just any Church, it is the Church where your family has gone for many generations, so you can’t just move to a new Church.
Then, as you finally reach the Church, the company official “allows” you to go in, but stands and observes you closely from nearby. Just as you are about to proceed, you hear and feel blasting and rumbles beneath your feet. You are told that the company has drilled a tunnel about 3,000 feet, about half way to their targeted sulfide ore body beneath the Salmon Trout River. They claim a right to develop the nickel, copper and other precious metals that they will make billions of dollars from and send to developing countries like China. They ask you to trust that they won’t hurt you in the process, despite no evidence that they have told the truth in the past.
You do not want the company to drill any further to reach the ore body because it could cause great harm to people. If the mine is to proceed, a worst case scenario could result in the collapse of the Salmon Trout River–into a very highly reactive sulfide mine–that could kill workers and perpetually carry Acid Mine Drainage downstream and into Lake Superior.
Carrying the knowledge of all of this, you have strength and faith to still go inside. You go to the alter, and you see and hear the movement of construction continuing all around.
You want to focus on your prayer, you want to stay. It is not as it were before, it is not how it is supposed to be.