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Mining Michigan Part 2: Native Americans make the stand and bear the brunt

August 4, 2010

This is the second of a three-part series . Look for Part 3 next week.

In 2005, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tried to lease the sacred Eagle Rock site from the State of Michigan for ceremonial use. Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula near Marquette, Eagle Rock and the surrounding Yellow Dog Plains are part of lands ceded to the tribe for hunting and fishing by an 1842 government treaty upheld by the courts again in 1983. The DNR declined to lease them the land because of concerns about how ceremonial use might impact this pristine wildlife habitat.

In 2007, the State of Michigan leased the land to Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Mining Company. Today, the lofty trees, endangered animal habitats and celebrated blueberry bushes surrounding Eagle Rock are just a memory. Kennecott bulldozed them, erected chain-link and razor wire fence and prepares to drill its entryway to the new mine, directly through the sacred rock. This destruction will seem miniscule when compared to the environmental devastation that will soon follow—damage that will lay waste the Yellow Dog plains, poison the Salmon Trout River, kill wildlife and impact one of the world’s most important sources of fresh drinking water, the Great Lakes.

Why would the State refuse the gentle use of the land to its indigenous peoples but allow its destruction by a corporation known for environmental destruction and human rights abuses? Well, the answer of course, is profit. Profit has always trumped the treaties our government has made with Native Americans.

Who will stand and fight? The Native American people living in the area and their few allies. From the look of the situation today, the fight is all but lost.

“Throughout the US, Native American People are fighting to protect the sacred places from development,” says Jessica Koski, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community member. “The courts have ruled that constitution isn’t strong enough to protect native people, especially when it comes in conflicts with development.”

Some environmentalists say the new Michigan mining law is to blame. Others say the law is good, but the MDNRE (formerly MDEQ) is not enforcing it. Either way, our Native peoples lose. That loss will be felt sorely by all of Michigan’s residents in the not too distant future.

Weekend gathering inspires a last stand

Last weekend, Native and non-Native people from the Marquette area and across the Great Lakes region joined together at the 3rd Annual Protect the Earth gathering.

Winona LaDuke’s Saturday morning Keynote speech emphasized the importance of creating greater resiliency and self-determination within Native communities. She urged Native peoples to strive for food and energy sovereignty in order to decrease their dependence on multinational corporations. This advice seems just as applicable for those of us living in non-native communities.

“As Anishinaabekwe (Anishinaabe women), it is our responsibility to care for the water,” Koski says “Protect the Earth and the annual walk to Eagle Rock re-energized our spirits and commitments to protecting the Yellow Dog Plains. As a people, it is our responsibility to not allow Rio Tinto the social license to mine near our freshwater and Great Lakes.”

A main focus of the gathering was Kennecott’s Eagle Mine and how to increase public awareness of sulfide and uranium mining interest throughout the Upper Peninsula. Protecting Migi zii wa sin, Eagle Rock, as a National Historic Site and Sacred Place to the Anishinaabe people was of special concern.

University of Michigan anthropologist, Stuart Kirsch, spoke near the Yellow Dog River about the detrimental effects of mining along the Ok Tedi and Fly Rivers for the Yonggom people of Papua New Guinea.  Indeed, Rio Tinto/Kennecott has a record of abuses against indigenous peoples all over the world. Kirsch emphasized that it is not too late to stop sulfide mining from contaminating our rivers and watersheds here in the U.P.

We need the whole state, the public to  say  ‘no.’

Indeed, the Native Americans living in the UP will feel the first and greatest impact of the Kennecott Eagle mine. Like the indigenous tribes in the film Avatar, they are watching their sacred site desecrated for profit. They will feel the loss of income and an important food source as fisheries are fouled. Their stand against bulldozers and barbed wire has already resulted in overzealous police action and illegal arrests. Non-native people and those living downstate cannot afford to let them stand alone.

“We really need supporters downstate,” Koski says. “ We need the whole state, the public to  say  ‘no.’ We need to look at what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico and realize the responsibility that Michigan holds to the Great Lakes. These are the biggest fresh water lakes in the world. We need to stand up and protect our water.”

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Liddy Olszewski permalink
    August 4, 2010 12:54 pm

    Thanks for writing this. It makes me so angry and sad. What can people downstate do to help.

  2. August 5, 2010 12:17 am

    Where is our humanity when you take someone lively hood without making amendment for the injustice. What are we teaching our children? Our republic for which the nation stands has sunk to another depth. Shame on us!

  3. stelle permalink
    August 5, 2010 12:36 am

    Good point Darlene. Collectively, we are teaching our children that they are disconnected from their world, disconnected from others and that the only thing that really matters is making money to buy things.

  4. Andrew permalink
    August 6, 2010 2:01 pm

    thanks so much again for all this hard work stelle. it would be helpful, perhaps, to identify specific ways folks downstate can get involved. do we/they write op-eds? contact state reps? contact dnre? extend support to kbic and local anti-sulfide mining/pro-yellow dog advocacy groups? etc…..

  5. charlotteloonsfoot permalink
    August 8, 2010 9:02 pm

    Charlotte Loonsfoot and friends have started a new encampment S.T.O.P – Stop Toxins & Other Pollutants, a group of Elders at KBIC passed down the group name to this new group camping on the Yellow Dog Plains. After the Protect the Earth Walk to the Eagle Mine site on Sunday, Charlotte and several friends and relatives established the new camp 1/2 mile from the entrance to the Eagle Mine. The camp is on private land and accessed by the AAA road. June Rydholm and her family have given permission for the camp and it is in a beautiful location under jack pine trees and overlooking the Panarama Hills of the Yellow Dog River. Residents from Minnesota’s Lake Superior North Shore have joined Charlotte and are helping getting the camp into great shape. All are welcome – the Yellow Dog River is close by. Follow updates at

    From Charlotte:

    Yesterday after the walk to Eagle Rock we set up a new camp on the Yellow Dog Plains. It is a new camp to bring awareness to the world of how Sulfide Mining in the Great Lakes is going to pollute our fish, wildlife, and people. We are going to fish, hunt, and gather on our Ceded Territories of the Anishinawbay people. We will be learning how to live off the land like our ancestors did before we were moved to Reservations. By having this camp we are continuing our presence in opposition of the Kennecott Mine. We will not give up fighting to protect our water. Come join us to help preserve the health and safety of our future.
    It is the second driveway on the left before Kencot’s Gate. we have dark blue flag tape on the trees and we moved the bump at the entrence. There are many people helping us and things are going up fast. hope to see many come out and visit or stay with us for a while. The camp is on private property 🙂
    Thank you everyone for being such great people we can never thank you enough.
    With love,

  6. August 31, 2010 1:05 pm

    I just can not understand “How the State of Michigan can prevent the indiginuos people from developing a site for Ceremony and let a Corporation like Kennecott wreck the land for minerals” plus thier getting the right to pollute Lake Superior. I’m for keeping the land, water control under Indian Treaty Rights on ceded lands through reservation voting by the enrolled Indians.

  7. August 31, 2010 1:23 pm

    I can not understand how the State of Michigan can make allowances for Kennecott Corporation to mine for polluting minerals in the U.P. Michigan and does not allow the indigeous people to set up a ceremonial site there. I believe, if not private property, that any setting up of constuction on any Indian reservation and/or ceded land that enrolled Indians from Reservation vote on by,eligible, voters of that reservation, Period.

  8. Barb permalink
    December 21, 2010 6:23 pm

    Please contact the Alliance for the Great Lakes about this terrible situation that will pollute the Lakes.

  9. stelle permalink
    December 22, 2010 4:26 pm

    Thank you, Barb. If you are involved with them, feel free to let them know that they can republish any or all of the GRIID three part series on Mining in Michigan.


  1. Rio Tinto in Michigan: Native Americans make a stand and bear the brunt | London Mining Network
  2. Rio Tinto blasts into Michigan sacred site « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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