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Rio Tinto blasts into Michigan sacred site

October 3, 2011

This is reposted from Stand for the Land. For more background information, read the GRIID series Mining in Michigan parts one, two and three.

On September 14, Circuit Court Judge Paula Manderfield refused a request by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and other petitioners to delay underground work at the Eagle Mine site in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

By doing so, she cleared the way for Kennecott Eagle Minerals, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, to blast through the base of an outcropping known to Anishinaabe peoples as Eagle Rock, or Migi Zii Wa Sin, to gain access to a copper-nickel ore body that lies some 2400 feet away, beneath the Salmon Trout River. The portal structure went up several days before the hearing, showing Kennecott’s confidence in a courtroom decision favorable to their interests.

This past Sunday afternoon, a gorgeous fall day on the Yellow Dog Plains, my companion and I were walking near the mine site, looking down an open corridor leading to Eagle Rock, when we heard a terrific explosion.  We stood there, stunned. It was a painful thing to witness.

In the words of my companion:

My heart sank.   There was a series of quick explosions.  In less than 5 seconds there might  have been 3 or 4 explosions.  The concussions seemed to vibrate through my body for many minutes.  It felt like I just received bad news that somebody had a terrible accident.

In allowing this to happen, Judge Manderfield, Kennecott, and the DEQ ignored centuries of oral history, verbal testimony, and archaeological studies demonstrating that Eagle Rock is linked to ancient ceremonial sites in Wisconsin and Montana and may be part of a network extending south to Mexico and north to the Arctic.  Eagle Rock is not a sacred site, they said, because there is no building and no mention of it in the written record.

The U.S. Congress itself, in drafting the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, acknowledged that “Native American religions hold certain lands or natural formations to be sacred.”  And, in fact, Native Americans are a traditionally nomadic people who relied on oral communications to preserve their history.

Last November, the National Congress of American Indians adopted a Resolution calling on “legislative and regulatory bodies of the State of Michigan and the United States to take prompt action to guarantee the protection and preservation of the integrity and intrinsic value of the Native American sacred ceremonial place known as Eagle Rock…”

Eagle Rock has existed and been maintained quietly, privately and secretly by the various Native American communities in order to protect it and preserve it from intrusion and desecration by curious outsiders… the mining operation of Kennecott Eagle Minerals… has intruded into this sacred area, destroying the serenity of the place and drawing attention to its existence.

That serenity and seclusion has been forever destroyed.  Today, we have it on official authority that Rio Tinto has indeed begun blasting at this sacred site.  When the mining is over, Kennecott says, they will return the place to its original condition.  Eagle Rock will be filled with a cement plug.

Catherine Parker

Marquette, Michigan

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