This guest blog by Chairman Gary Besaw is a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series on the Menominee River in Wisconsin and Michigan.
By now, a majority of the country and many around the world have heard of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the resulting opposition to that project. The collective opposition to the DAPL was truly inspiring. Unfortunately, serious threats to water happen far too often, and many play out without the benefit of national and worldwide attention. One of these fights for clean water is happening right now on the Menominee River which separates Northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. You may not have heard of the controversial proposed Back Forty mine yet, a project being pursued by a Canadian exploratory company named Aquila Resources, Inc., but you will and with your help thousands more will.
The Menominee River was recently named as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® due to the threats associated with the proposed Back Forty mine. The proposed project includes plans for a massive open pit metallic sulfide mine and processing facility located 50 yards from the Menominee River, a major Lake Michigan tributary and the largest watershed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The project poses significant risks to the clean water supply of communities near the mine site as well as down river and Lake Michigan communities. These communities are deeply reliant on the tourism and recreational industries which serve as an economic staple in the region. In addition, the surrounding ecosystem and sites of historic, cultural and religious significance to the Menominee Indian Tribe face the threat of destruction.
The project has received controversial approvals on three of the four permits required for the project, however the fight is far from over. The Menominee Indian Tribe and an adjoining landowner have challenged the mining permit approval. Additionally, review of the fourth permit, the wetlands permit, is just getting underway with a mounting opposition committed to the denial of the wetland permit.
An amazing side effect of the disastrous proposed Back Forty project is that it has awoken the collective spirits of people from all walks of life. As the public becomes more aware of the threats associated with this project, opposition to the project is quickly growing and includes tribal governments, national and regional tribal organizations, local city governments, local county governments, local township governments, national, regional and local environmental organizations, local citizen groups, local businesses, local fishing organizations, archeologists, and elected Wisconsin State officials. The widespread opposition across the social and political spectrum is telling of the dangers associated with the proposed project.
For the Menominee Indian Tribe, this project on the Menominee River, in Menominee County, MI, upriver from the City of Menominee, is deeply personal. The Menominee Indian Tribe is a federally recognized Indian Tribe, indigenous to the area. The Menominee Tribe’s place of origin exists within our 1836 Treaty area, at the mouth of the Menominee River. It was here that our five clans: Ancestral Bear, Eagle, Wolf, Moose, and Crane were transformed into human form and became the first Menominee thousands of years ago.
As a result of our undeniable ties to the Menominee River area, we have numerous sacred sites on the Menominee River, including the area of the proposed mine. These sites include burial mounds, places of worship, former village sites, and ancestral raised agricultural garden beds. Much like our brothers and sisters in the NODAPL movement, we also know that water is essential to life. The Menominee River is, after all, the very origin of life for the Menominee people. It also provides life to Michigan and Wisconsin residents and the natural wildlife within the Great Lakes ecosystem.
The Menominee Indian Tribe’s rich culture, history, and residency in the area now known as the State of Wisconsin, and parts of the States of Michigan and Illinois, dates back 10,000 years. The Tribe’s members enjoy pristine lakes, rivers, and streams, over 219,000 acres of the richest forests in the Nation, and an abundance of plant and animal life.