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Mining in Michigan Part Three: Major players in the mining leagues

August 12, 2010

The U’wa in Colombia, the Ogoni in Nigeria, the Quichua in Ecuador, the Cree in Manitoba, the Subanen in The Phillipines and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—these indigenous peoples are among the many making a stand against resource extraction companies that are devastating their lands. The environmental destruction wrought by these corporations threatens to further pollute the world’s water, air and land. As caged canaries warned coal miners in times past, these and other indigenous people are proclaiming the danger—some are dying in the process.

Who are these companies? The long list of names frequently morphs because of buy-outs, mergers and start-ups trying to escape previously tainted reputations. A special threat to the UP, new Canadian companies come and go thanks to the ease with which they can be listed on Canada’s stock exchange. Even more frightening are the environmental damage and humans rights abuses committed by the established companies at work in Michigan today.

As mentioned in GRIID’s previous post, Rio Tinto/Kennecot has one of the worst records in the industry. Our indigenous neighbors living in the UP are currently experiencing Kennecott’s special brand of terror. This company will construct its new Michigan sulfide mine by blasting directly through the heart of sacred Eagle Rock. Kennecott has already bulldozed, degraded and fenced the area surrounding Eagle Rock as well as parts of the pristine Yellow Dog Plains, as widened roads and power lines are readied for the mine’s operation.

Kennecott “helped” rewrite Michigan mining law as a prelude to this disaster, with what it seems, a lot of “insider” cooperation. As mentioned in GRIID’s first article, Kennecott hired Governor Granholm’s contact and communications point person on metallic sulfide mining Matt Johnson as its PR point person for the project, raising suspicions of insider influence. And, DEQ Office of Geological Survey geologist, Joe Maki, remains in charge of inspecting the mine, even though he “lost” negative reports about its future impact during the approvals process.

While we should expect better from our State agencies and businesses, we cannot expect better from Rio Tinto/Kennecott. Rio Tinto’s history of abuses goes back to the 1930s, when the company engaged fascist General Francisco Franco to court martial and shoot miners rallying for improved working conditions. In Apartheid South Africa, the company paid migrant black workers less than minimum wage and, in Nambia, investigators found working conditions akin to slavery.

Since Jan 30, 2010, Rio Tinto’s Boron, California laborers have lived without a paycheck.  The company locked them out when they refused to agree to a contract that turned their good jobs into part-time, temporary or contracted jobs.

The floodgate is open

Sorry to say, Rio Tinto/Kennecott is just one of many mining companies poised to strike at Michigan’s resources. Now that the flood gate is open, Rio Tinto/Kennecott is planning several more mining ventures in other areas of the U.P. A slew of other mining companies are already surveying for new mines: Bitterroot Resources, Cameco, Aquila Resources, HudBay Minerals Inc. and Orvana. Bitterroot Resources and Cameco explored the U.P. for uranium in 2008. Orvana has a current U.P. mining project, Coppperwood.

“(Even though) It is not in a reactive sulfide body. . . our concern with this project is that it is so very close to Lake Superior. It is also near where the old White Pine mine was, which is of some concern because while mining, the company hit an old sea bed which introduced salt to Lake Superior,” says Teresa Bertossi, organizer with Stand for the Land. “Also, the Copperwood project is of concern because the ore body likely runs under Lake Superior, which means mining could take place under the lake.”

Bertossi expects Aquila Resources and HudBay Minerals Inc. to be the next corporations to submit applications to mine the U.P. in a project they call The Back Forty. “This mine would be in a reactive sulfide ore body. It would mostly be a zinc and gold mine. It would be partially open pit and underground,” Bertossi says. “The mine project would be located within a few hundred feet of the Menominee River and near the Shakey Lakes Savannah. The company is also proposing to use on site cyanide leach processing.”

According to May 2010 testimony collected by Rights Action and students from the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), HudBay is one of several Canadian mining companies directly involved in violent, illegal forced evictions,  gang rape of several women and assassination in Guatemala.

Rio Tinto/Kennecott is no stranger to human rights abuses

As was mentioned at the beginning of this article, Rio Tinto/Kennecott has a gruesome track record of environmental contamination and human rights abuses around the global. One of the more famous cases was the company’s role in the CIA coup in Chile in 1973, a coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende and put in power the brutal dictatorship of General Pinochet.

Kennecott became a financial backer of the military coup when they discovered that the Allende government wanted to nationalize the mining industry, something that the Nixon administration was also adamantly opposed to. The CIA backed coup resulted in the murder of an estimated 30,000 Chileans, with thousands more being tortured and others fleeing into exile.

Back in the US

Michigan isn’t the only target for destructive profiteering by mining corporations. For example, in Lynne, Wisconsin, citizens are fighting Tamarlane Ventures Inc. In Minnesota, they are taking on Polymet in that state’s Arrowhead region. While the company names change from state to state, their methods are similar. They line pockets, influence laws, promise jobs and paint a rosy PR picture in local media.

“We need jobs in the UP, personally I would love to be able to make a good living here, but we can’t trade our heart and soul to bring them here. We need our representatives to get off of their duffs and use their heads to bring long-term jobs to the area. If we can subsidize foreign mining companies, give them our land and minerals for pennies, we can subsidize a more sustainable and versatile economy,” Bertossi says. “Michigan needs to stop using the UP as a resource colony. We have to protect our water, our greatest asset in this region, and the risky mining ventures currently proposed here cannot coexist alongside clean water.”

What can we do downstate?

Jessica Koski, organizer and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community member, suggests organizing meetings and informational workshops; starting grassroots organizations; hosting a film screening of Mining Madness or Water Wars; writing to elected officials, the EPA and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources & Environment; writing op-eds and letters to the editor in local newspapers; informing family and friends about the issues to spread awareness; taking a trip up to Yellow Dog Plains to experience the beauty of the area and visit the new camp.

“I think one of the most important thing down-state folks can do is demand that upcoming politicians looking to be elected stand up and take an important stand for the health and environment of people who live in the U.P., and that they don’t put our abundant freshwater resources at risk of acid mine drainage and contamination from mining,” she says. “If an incident such as the oil spill in the gulf or in Kalamazoo happens here in the UP with the Eagle Project, it will be too late as irreversible acid mine drainage makes it way towards Lake Superior.”

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sondra permalink
    August 12, 2010 2:48 pm

    Thank you for this well-researched article. While it reflects one side of the story, it’s the side that needs to be told and promoted.

    While I can’t speak for the people of the U.P., we all have a stake in what happens. To that end, if we fight against the jobs these mines promise, we then need to advocate for and support other types of jobs/work/labor for our neighbors up north.

  2. c.j. permalink
    September 17, 2010 1:26 pm

    Im tired of people trying to put a strangle hold on the U.P. and northern Wisconsin by fighting against the industries that put the towns of the “North” on the map. As you protestors climb into your cars, or onto your bikes, just remember that many of the components in that car or bike came from the ground. Our schools and towns continue to decline because of the lack of industry. To say no to mining is saying no to the future growth and prosperity of the U.P. and Northern Wisconsin. We cannot support a family on service based low paying no benefit jobs created by tourism. I believe that the mines of the Northland will be highly monitored and will provide new jobs to a stagnate economy. When you look at the northland as a whole, the site of a mine is small small fraction of the total area. For those that want solitude, trust me, the UP has many areas that you can walk for days and not see much but the great outdoors. I know most of the protestors want to see the northland kept for the southerners personal vacation land but for those that want to live up here, we need jobs. Period. Many friends and family have moved away to find work. Its okay to support responsible mining but to say NO to an industry that is the part of the fabric of the northland is wrong. Thank You.


  1. Mining in Michigan Part Three: Major players in the mining leagues | Stand for the Land
  2. Rio Tinto blasts into Michigan sacred site « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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