Published April 22, 2017
KESHENA, WISCONSIN — “Min Wiconi – Water is Life” became the rallying cry last year at Standing Rock. American Indian tribes have had to fight to protect their water rights. While the fight continues in federal court for Standing Rock, other projects provide threats across Indian Country to clean water for tribal citizens.
Often the fight against companies involve more than simply protecting water. The Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin, a federally recognized tribe based in Keshena, Wisconsin, is currently fighting to prevent the approval of a permit to build the Back Forty Mine on the banks of the Menominee River in Lake Township, Michigan.
The proposed Back Forty Mine is a project of Aquila Resources, Inc., a Canadian development stage company. Aquila plans to mine ore (copper, gold, silver and zinc) at the proposed site. The proposed mine will be an open pit metallic mine, 750 deep—comparable to two Statute of Liberty— and 2,000 feet wide, which would be about 5.5 football fields.
Menominee River has been part of the Menominee Tribe culture for centuries
The 120-mile long river separates northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and is one of the largest watersheds in the Great Lakes drainage basin. The Menominee River drains into the Green Bay of Lake Michigan at Marinette, Wisconsin / Menominee, Michigan.
The Menominee Tribe is indigenous to the territory to what is known as Wisconsin, upper Michigan and parts of Illinois. The Tribe’s sacred place of origin exists with its 1836 treaty territory, at the mouth of the Menominee River, located in the border cities of Menominee, Michigan and Marinette, Wisconsin. Because of its close historical ties to the Menominee River, there are significant sacred sites on the river.
Menominee River Makes Endangered List
The proposed Back Forty Mine has drawn attention of the American Rivers, a Washington, D.C.-based conservation group. Earlier this month, the organization added the Menominee River to its 2017 America’s Most Endangered Rivers List. Each year, the organization names the Top 10 endangered rivers to its list.
American Rivers named the river to the endangered list because of the proposed mine, which is planned to be an open pit metallic sulfide mine located 150 feet from the banks of the Menominee River, near Lake Township, Michigan. If completed, the acid mine drainage from the tailings, waste rock stockpiles and open pit, threaten to permanently devastate and forever change the health of the region’s ecosystem.
“The Menominee Tribe views the proposed project as a dangerous and irresponsible threat to our cultural resources and the Menominee River ecosystem. The tribe applauds American Rivers for bringing the endangerment of the Menominee River to the forefront nationally,” stated Menominee Tribal Chairman Gary Besaw.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has already approved three of four required permits for the project to proceed. The Michigan Mining Permit and the Michigan Air Use Permit were approved by the MDEQ on December 28, 2016.
Seeking to halt the Back Forty Mine, the Menominee Indian filed a petition for a contested case hearing on the MDEQ’s approval of the permit. The Menominee Indian Tribe’s petition was filed Friday February 24, 2017 with the Michigan Administrative Hearing Office. The petition for a contested case hearing is the first step in challenging the MDEQ’s decision to approve the mining permit for the proposed Back Forty Mine.
“The MDEQ and Aquila Resources Inc. are well aware of the Menominee Indian Tribe’s close cultural connection to this area and our serious concern in regards to our cultural resources and mounds, including our ancestral burial sites located within the impact area of the proposed mine. Despite these valid and well documented concerns a full evaluation of the cultural resources and mounds threatened by this project never occurred” stated Chairman Besaw.
The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit was approved on April 5, 2017. The wetlands permit is currently under review by the MDEQ.
The Menominee Tribe views the “water is life” fight going beyond clean water, which is vitally important to those living near the Menominee River, but also impacting its culture, involving burial grounds and sacred places of worship.
With this fight, the Menominee Tribe is working with many allies, including local citizens, local government organizations and grassroots organizations that are opposed to the mine to bring about public awareness of the harmful impacts of the proposed mine.
For more information on Menominee’s efforts visit www.noback40.org.