[We are in the process of updating our "Overview" section. Please stay posted for future information in coming months]
Multinational mining corporations are exploring uranium and metallic sulfide ore bodies throughout the Great Lakes region. Due to the dangers metallic sulfide and uranium mining pose to freshwater, a coalition of local citizens, environmental organizations, and Native American tribes has developed. Kennecott was the first to apply, under new state regulations, for a permit to operate a metallic sulfide mine. The company proposes to blast its mine under a blue ribbon trout stream and through a sacred site of the Anishinaabe, a rock outcrop called Migi zii wa sin, Eagle Rock. Furthermore, the proposed mine is on public land and located only 10 miles from Lake Superior, the most pristine of the Great Lakes. The situation recently escalated with the unlawful arrest of a citizen for “trespassing” on public lands, which then spurred us, as members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, to occupy Eagle Rock. Native and nonnative people camped atop the proposed mine portal for nearly 5 weeks, which ended with a police raid and our arrests.
Kennecott’s Eagle Project
KEMC is a subsidiary of a foreign multi-national corporation called Rio Tinto (Anglo-Australian). Rio Tinto is heavily criticized for its atrocious human rights track record around the globe. KEMC has named its current project the Eagle Project and completed environmental baseline studies in an area of the Escanaba River State Forest called the Yellow Dog Plains. The company was granted permits from State agencies to begin mining in Michigan under Michigan’s new, weak and untested sulfide mining regulation. We are currently awaiting the results of a contested case hearing and for an underground injection permit from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)—both expected to take place this fall.
Michigan’s Metallic Sulfide and Uranium Mining Law (Part 632 of Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act)
Prior to 2004, Michigan did not have legislation governing metallic sulfide mining. In 2004, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) addressed the issue by putting together a workgroup of environmental organizations, local and state representatives, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, and a number of mining corporations. The new legislation (Part 632) at least requires an Environmental Impact Assessment; mine reclamation, environmental protection and contingency plans, and some financial assurance. However, the MDEQ has disguised the statute and its rules as a “consensus” even though Kennecott’s participation in writing the rules to govern their own project disproportionately influenced and weakened the new legislation—disenfranchising local governments and leaving unique lands susceptible to destruction. Today, State officials and representatives, as well as Kennecott, use the new legislation as an excuse to allow metallic sulfide mining in Michigan.
The Yellow Dog Plains
The Yellow Dog Plains are glacial outwash found in the Escanaba River State
Forest and the Michigamme Highlands. The land cover on the plains is largely Jack Pine forests and locally-prized wild blueberries. Much of the plains are unprotected but surrounded by many state, federal, and private preservation areas. These include the McCormick Tract Wilderness Area, Huron Islands, the Willow Creek and Braastad Memorial Michigan Nature Preserves, and a 20,000-acre, privately owned Nature Reserve Area called the Huron Mountain Club. The Yellow Dog Plains were logged lasting through the 20th century. Today, there is no commercial development and only a few seasonal roads and logging trails to provide access. There are also no power or phone lines, and very few permanent settlements. The plains are home to two important watersheds named after the Salmon Trout and the Yellow Dog rivers (four miles of the Yellow Dog River is a federally recognized wild and scenic river). This area sees subzero temperatures between December and March due to its northern and continental location as well as its elevation. The plains have been considered an “ecological island,” in reference to its uniquely cold climate and flora and fauna more commonly found in boreal regions hundreds of miles to the north. The Michigamme Highlands are home to a variety of wildlife, such as moose, wolf, black bear, and spruce grouse, as well as more rare creatures like the endemic coaster brook trout, blue northern butterfly, marten, and merlin. In all, the Yellow Dog Plains have been considered culturally and economically significant to the surrounding communities for many years.
The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community
The nearest indigenous tribe, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), has ceded territorial rights to the land that encompasses the Yellow Dog Plains. Ceded territories were created in the 1800s when the US government traded the Anishinaabe money and school lessons for large tracts of their land. The tribe was allowed to maintain their hunting, fishing, and gathering rights to their lands sold to the US. These hunting and fishing rights were recognized, in Michigan, with the signing of treaties in 1836 and 1842. In July of 2004, KBIC adopted a resolution against all sulfide mining in the State f Michigan. According to the former president of KBIC (currently vice president) Susan LaFernier:
The Tribal Council’s position on the mining issue has not changed since the adoption of our resolution in July of 2004 . . . The L’Anse Indian Reservation and the Ceded Territories, which includes the Yellow Dog Plains, is the homeland of my people and U.P.’s people. The treaties entered into by our ancestors in 1842 guaranteed our homeland, with the right to hunt, fish, and gather—rights which we are determined to preserve and protect for at least the next seven generations.
Kennecott’s project threatens the rights of the tribe to access their hunting and gathering lands as well as a sacred ceremonial site. Kennecott has proposed to locate their mine portal within a geologic formation known to locals as Eagle Rock. Eagle Rock also resides on State lands and Kennecott has requested the right to close of 120 acres of public land for 32 years.
Cynthia Pryor’s Arrest
A Big Bay resident was recently arrested for “trespassing” on public land in the Escanaba River State Forest, in northern Marquette County. Cynthia Pryor planned on visiting Eagle Rock, site of Kennecott Minerals’ proposed “Eagle” mine, to keep an eye on the company’s activities. She was arrested while sitting on an old tree stump with her dog, Sophie. Since then, public support for keeping that land public has increased
Occupation of Eagle Rock
Above, are reasons why members from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, along with other tribes and non-native people, chose to occupy and camp, hunt, fish, gather and practice traditional ceremonies on this public/treaty land for over a month. Kennecott Eagle Minerals provided a statement to the local media saying they understood and that, “They [native protesters] have an interest in expressing their viewpoint on the project…And we’re not going to interfere with that.”
Despite the company’s statement two KBIC members, Chris Chosa and Charlotte Loonsfoot, were arrested on May 27th, 2010 by 20 squad cars, a swat team, a fire truck, and dozens of heavily armed police and state troopers who raided the peaceful camp at Eagle Rock, arresting Charlotte while fasting and putting Chris in belly chains, unlike with the arrest of non-Native local citizen Cynthia Pryor who was arrested by only 2 police officers. The police disrespectfully also enjoyed a meal from Subway at Eagle Rock, provided by Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company, while arresting Chris and Charlotte. Charlotte and Chris both had hunting permits granted by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Council.