Where the Water Flows North

A huge debate is raging in our capital today. Many people are fighting over the future of Wisconsin’s mining heritage. There are those who are solely concerned with the economic benefits a potential bill revision would create. Others worry about irreversible damages that could result from the passage of the Wisconsin Mining Bill being voted on at this very moment. One group that wants their voice heard is the Annishinaabe (Ojibwe/Chippewa) tribe residing within the Bad River Indian Reservation.

On February 27th at 3:45 Matt Dannenburg spoke to the students of University of Wisconsin – Whitewater about the potential risks to the Annishinaabe subsistence way of life that may arise if the Wisconsin Mining Bill gets through the state legislature. Matt represented the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and made the argument that a passage of the current bill will affect their reservation in some way or another.  After hearing the presentation, it is clear that the passage of the bill would be a loss for all of those concerned about creating a sustainable Wisconsin.

The bill originated through the collaboration with the mining company, Gogebic Taconite, and the state legislature. The bill’s main purpose is to relax mining legislation and speed up the DNR’s approval process in hopes of bringing mining companies and economic development to Wisconsin. The main mine this bill would favor is located in the Penokee Hills. The Penokee hills reside in Ashland county of Northern Wisconsin. The size of this mine will be 22 miles long and will require streams and lakes to be filled in with the overburden, the rock remaining as a result of the mining operations. This use of natural waterways is where Matt and the Annishinaabe Tribe find their fight.

The mining will not take place within the reservation. The problem arises when the rivers containing the mining overburden carry the contaminants north towards Lake Superior and through their reservation.  Possible sulphur and other compounds within the soil could spell disaster for the sloughs, backwaters, of the reservation that the tribe harvests wild rice from. Elevated compounds being introduced into the rivers and streams could ruin entire ecosystems. With the ecosystem will go the entire rice farming way of life of the Annishinaabe tribe.

Matt and the Annishinaabe tribe are not against mining. The tribe is against the way this is being done and that their voices have been suppressed. Matt stated that there was never a hearing held in Ashland county, but only in the surrounding area. The bill would further suppress the voices of those in the mining areas by expediting the hearing process.  Just a little bit ago the mining bill passed the senate and will most likely pass the state assembly.

The Ojibwa saying, “water is life” holds true for everyone in the world. The mining bill will have an effect on the quality of water the in the Bad River watershed in the future.  No matter what the arguments are on either side of the political spectrum, one thing is for certain – the passage of the Wisconsin Mining Bill will change the Bad River Indian reservation for years to come.

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