Gold Diggers and Indians

By Bleifuss, Joel | In These Times, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Gold Diggers and Indians


Bleifuss, Joel, In These Times


PRESIDENT BaRACK ObAMA carried Wisconsin by 52 to 46 percent- winning the state by more than 200,000 votes. Yet, curiously, the Wisconsin Republican Party solidified its control of both the Wisconsin state assembly and senate. It is now certain that Gov. Scott Walker (R) is in a position to turn his state's natural resources over to the corporate bag men who helped make that victory possible.

Today, in the Northwoods of the Upper Midwest the mining industry is busy prospecting. Like Africa's Congo River Basin, this area of the Great Lakes Basin is rich in valuable minerals. Unlike the Congo, it is peaceful.

At least for now.

The gold rush is on, the natives are restless.

Aquila Resources has its sights set on gold deposits at five sites in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. According to the company's website, "the Great Lakes region [offers] a politically stable and increasingly attractive investment opportunity." For example, the company boasts that its Reef Gold Project in Marathon County, Wis., "is potentially amendable to low cost, open pit mining."

The problem for Aquila Resources is that extracting this gold will entail processing sulfur- rich ore, a byproduct of which is acid waste that pollutes the environment. For that reason, in 1997 the Wisconsin legislature instituted a moratorium on metallic sulfide mines. But Democrats were in control then.

Days after the November 6 election, lobbyists for the mining industry asked the Republican-controlled legislature to repeal the state's sulfide mining moratorium. Ron Kuehn, a lobbyist for Aquila Resources, told the Wisconsin State Journal: "If the moratorium went away, that would be a very significant signal to mining companies." In other words, the gold rush could commence.

The Wisconsin Mining Association (WMA) puts it this way: "Today, some of the richest mineral deposits in our country lie buried under Wisconsin and thousands of good jobs are buried there with them."

The WMA backs Assembly Bill 426. Republican members on the Jobs, Economy and Small Business Committee wrote this legislation in 2011 to bypass environmental regulations, and to eliminate local input and control of the mining industry. The GOP legislators who wrote that bill were members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) - a secretive association of corporate representatives, right-wing think tanks and state legislators that promotes "model legislation." The bill passed the assembly on Nov. 26, 2012, and will soon fly through the state senate.

Assembly Bill 426 was expressly crafted for the Cline Group, a Florida-based mining conglomerate that claims to want to establish an open pit taconite iron ore mine in the Penokee Mountains - a natural wonder that Backpacker magazine calls "the Alps of Wisconsin."

By the shores of Gitche Gumee

The proposed 4.5-mile-long, 1.5-milewide open-pit mine would sit about 30 miles south of Lake Superior, in the headwaters of the Bad River.

The Bad River flows toward Lake Superior over the majestic Copper Falls and into the Kakagon Slough, a 16,000acre wetland known as the Everglades of the North. The Kakagon is located in the Bad River Reservation, home to the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa [Anishinaabe] Indians. This slough is also home to the only surviving costal wild rice wetland in the Great Lakes Basin. Wild rice, or manoomin, is a sacred crop to the 11 Anishinaabe tribes that make their home around the Great Lakes. Consequently, Indian nations across the Upper Midwest are united in opposition to the Cline Groups iron mine, and the toxic runoff that is sure to ensue. (Full disclosure: I am not a disinterested party. For the past 50 years, I have spent part of every summer on Madeline IslandMoningwunkauning - in Lake Superior, living a few hundred yards from Bad River Reservation land.)

Mike Wiggins, the Bad River tribal chairman, helped organize opposition to the proposed mine by the regions various Indian nations. …

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