MAC: Mines and Communities

Forces gather to protect Eagle Rock from Kennecott

Published by MAC on 2010-05-20
Source: Indian Country Today, Huffington Post (2010-05-07)

Cynthia Pryor was arrested for trespassing on public land that Kennecott plans to mine (see - http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=10065). She expands on arguments against the mine, and how she has inspired more men and women - both native and non-native - to gather to protect the sacred Eagle Rock.

A Sacred Fire Is Burning at Eagle Rock

Cynthia Pryor (Sulfide Mining Campaign Director, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve)

Huffington Post

7 May 2010

Around the world, indigenous communities are defending their homelands and sacred sites from mining companies with more urgency than ever. With the fictional Avatar receiving so much media attention, it's important to realize that very real battles between indigenous communities protecting sacred sites and corporations infringing on them are happening in the real world. And not just in exotic corners of the world, but right here in America, in the Great Lakes, where millions get their drinking water.

Rio Tinto has from the beginning played out the role of the big bad mining company in its plans to mine nickel and copper in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The project has been marred by a flawed approval process, with one expert hired by the state insisting the project could collapse on workers. Despite unresponsive regulators and politicians, a persistent grassroots movement has stalled the company plans by years already.

This seven-year battle between Rio Tinto and local citizens came to a head when I was arrested a couple weeks ago for "trespassing" on land the company wants to mine for nickel, copper and other precious metals. I was doing what I've been doing on a weekly basis for over a decade - walking with my dog to Migi Zii Wa Sin, or Eagle Rock, a sacred site to Anishinaabe tribes. Rio Tinto took my presence there as a threat and called local law enforcement to the scene. I was arrested and jailed for refusing to leave land the company still has no legal title to.

The important thing about my arrest is that it happened on public land. A couple years ago, Rio Tinto signed a land use lease with the State of Michigan to build surface facilities and a portal for their mine. They still lack federal approval to move forward, yet have bulldozed anyway in order to fence the land off for 40 years and blast a portal for the mine into Eagle Rock. The ore body itself lies underneath a river that feeds into Lake Superior, the largest and most pristine of the Great Lakes.

Under the Treaty of 1842 the Anishinaabe have retained all rights for fishing, hunting and gathering on public lands over a wide swath of land in Michigan and Wisconsin. By allowing Rio Tinto to mine a sacred site, the State of Michigan has disregarded these long-standing rights and dismissed Eagle Rock as a place of worship. Would Rio Tinto get away with blasting a mine into the floor of a Christian cathedral? I doubt it.

My arrest triggered three brave members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) to act in protecting their treaty rights and sacred site. They arrived at Eagle Rock the night of April 23 in a beat-up Geo Metro to "take a stand." The courage of these women, who were the first to occupy Eagle Rock, has inspired many more men and women - both native and non-native - to gather here to protect this place.

"We have done ceremonies before recorded time until the Treaty of 1842 and our people's removal from our culture and our language. Our stand at Eagle Rock is not only to protect our water, but the spirit in Eagle Rock."

This place, while held sacred by the Anishinaabe, is also a place that is dear to the people living in the small remote communities surrounding Eagle Rock. Locals cherish the notion that America still has remote places where no industrial lights block out the stars, no industrial noise blocks out the wind in the pines, and where people may quietly enjoy these quality public lands held in trust for them by the State of Michigan.

Our state government has sold us out on this public land heritage by placing the wealth and profit of Rio Tinto over the health and welfare of the people it represents. Not only do they fail to recognize the sacred value of Eagle Rock and the rights of the Anishinaabe, they have allowed this company to proceed without federal approval while arresting citizens under absurd charges for getting in the way of Rio Tinto's plans.

Rio Tinto is working now to fence off this public land and Eagle Rock and doesn't seem to mind moving forward without legal authority from the federal government. The Anishinaabe and their non-native supporters will not allow this to continue. We will peacefully stay here until the state recognizes our rights to public land, the sovereign rights of the Anishinaabe, and their right to their sacred land - right here at Eagle Rock.

Cynthia Pryor lives seven miles away from Rio Tinto's planned mine, near the Yellow Dog River, and has worked through the grassroots Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve since 1995.

Anyone interested in keeping up on this issue can find photos and more information at the blog for the Eagle Rock occupation, standfortheland.com.


Defending sacred Eagle Rock

By Greg Peterson

Indian Country Today

5 May 2010

BIG BAY, Mich. - As the spirits whispered through the towering pines on 40 mile per hour winds atop sacred Eagle Rock, American Indian warrior Levi Tadgerson said, "you can feel our relatives and the spirits with us."

He stood on the cliff's edge looking out upon northern Michigan's Yellow Dog Plains for another approaching storm - literally and figuratively - as Tadgerson's fellow warriors are trying to stop an international mining giant from destroying the site where Ojibwa ceremonies have taken place as long as elders can remember.

In late April, Kennecott Eagle Minerals began site preparation work for its sulfide mine called the Eagle Project. The entrance to the nickel and copper mine will be built at sacred Eagle Rock.

"We are defending the water, we are defending our treaty rights and our right to practice our culture," said Tadgerson, who describes himself as "an Anishinaabe man who loves and respects the environment.

"We're defending our right to live a healthy life and have our kids live a healthy life."

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and numerous environment groups are worried because sulfuric acid is a byproduct of sulfide mining plus several companies have announced plans for dozens of similar mines.

Kennecott says environmental protection is a major concern, but opponents say the way the company has operated other mines doesn't show it.

Hundreds of people have visited the Eagle Rock site recently and those staying in tents include Lakota women, Tadgerson said.

"The people that are here who are making their stand - are not only warriors - but they are clear thinkers," elder Bobby "Bullet" St. Germaine said of the band of anti-mine fighters. Not a mantle to be used lightly, elders say Tadgerson and all those protecting Eagle Rock are "warriors."

For more than a century, Eagle Rock has been the site of American Indian ceremonies and nearby pristine springs have been a source of water.

Standing about 150 feet high over nearly five acres, Eagle Rock is covered with towering pines, brush and valleys.

The Eagle Rock defenders have built a "kitchen" and a sweat lodge, council lodge, "wigwams and a long house," Tadgerson said.

"We're getting back to the old ways. We are learning the old ways and it's going to help us defend that water and defend that sacred site."

The battle is so important to Tadgerson, a member of the Bay Mills Indian Community, that he didn't "properly study" for his senior final exams and even skipped one at Northern Michigan University and missed his Native American grandfather's funeral.

The mine "shows how backwards our society is - we'd rather poison our waters than drink them and we'd rather poison our air than be able to breathe," Tadgerson said.

An 1842 federal treaty with the Ojibwa Nation gives American Indians the right to hunt, fish, gather and conduct sacred ceremonies on Eagle Rock and all public lands in the central and western U.P. stretching into Wisconsin and Minnesota. A similar 1837 treaty between the federal government and the Ojibwa is in effect for eastern U.P. and the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

At issue now is whether Kennecott's Eagle Project sulfide mine still needs an Environmental Protection Agency permit for the mine water discharge system because the company changed its plans from underground pipes to an above ground system thus withdrawing its permit application.

Kennecott is awaiting EPA reaction to its withdrawal stating publicly it now has all the state permits needed and started surface site preparation work April 16, thus claiming its rights to the property under a lease with the state of Michigan.

"This is our clean water and our land and we don't want this mine here," said KBIC member Charlotte Loonsfoot.

Amy Conover of Marquette, Mich. feels let down by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the EPA.

"This is state land - this is public property - we have trusted our governments.

"It's important to look after these natural resources," Conover said. "These multinational corporations come in with their big money ... (and) manipulated the very systems that are supposed to be protecting us."

Pamela Nesbit of Iron River, Mich., St. Germaine's wife, said she is camping at Eagle Rock because "I am trying to walk in a good way.

"I am here out of love and respect for those who walk with courage."

"The battle to protect Eagle Rock is an important step in the struggle to recover our country's soul," said Rev. Jon Magnuson, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor and one of 100 U.P. faith leaders who signed a 2006 public declaration standing in solidarity with KBIC's opposition to the permits sought by Kennecott and its parent company Rio Tinto.

"The KBIC confrontation with Rio Tinto, a wealthy irresponsible multinational mining company, is an invitation to honor constitutional promises for protection of Native people's treaty rights," Magnuson said. "It carries for all of us a renewed hope of living with the land in a sacred way."

Adults have a duty "to leave something good behind for the unborn children," St. Germaine said. The creator has "given us pure water, pure air and good land" that the "contaminated human mind" has desecrated.

Kennecott's Eagle Project

Long opposed by American Indian tribes and environment groups, Kennecott Eagle Minerals began site preparation on its Eagle Project sulfide mine in late April near Lake Superior in a remote area of Michigan's Upper Peninsula known as the Yellow Dog Plains.

The planned entrance to the mine is located at sacred Eagle Rock, the site of Ojibwa ceremonies for at least 150 years.

A standoff between Kennecott and American Indians at Eagle Rock started April 23 after the arrest of a mine opponent Cynthia Pryor on a misdemeanor trespassing charge.

Kennecott's plans include a nearly mile-long tunnel that will start eastbound at the base of Eagle Rock and dogleg back west to a rich ore body underneath the pristine Salmon Trout River.

The dogleg under Eagle Rock is needed to ensure a gradual grade to the ore under the river that "is thought to be the only location for natural reproduction of the coaster brook trout in Michigan," according to Save the Wild UP, an environment group that has led the fight against Upper Peninsula mining.

The approximately six-acre ore body under the Salmon Trout River starts about 100 feet down - below bedrock and a rocky mixture of soil - dropping to 900 feet deep. While primarily a nickel and copper mine, opponents say Kennecott will also filter out anything they find including possibly palladium, gold, silver and other minerals.

Kennecott plans to replace what's removed from beneath the Salmon Trout River with cement pillars. The plans include a 22-mile haul road to its planned Humboldt milling facility. The company has promised state-of-the-art design that will mix the ore with "dead" or unoxygenated water to prevent the chemical reaction that causes sulfuric acid when the sulfides are mixed with air and water.

In addition to the desecration of sacred Eagle Rock, opponents fear the sulfuric acid that's produced by sulfide mining.

Kennecott public relations officials did not return calls, however, the company's fact page about the project states "environmental responsibility and protection is a priority."

"Preventing and controlling the conditions that can lead to the potential for acid rock drainage to occur is central to the planning and design of the Eagle Project," the site states. "The Eagle Project in Northern Marquette County is the only primary nickel mine in the U.S., generating approximately 300 million pounds of nickel."

The mine will employ about 300 people, about 75 of whom will be local, and will have an annual payroll of $18 million, the Eagle Project fact page states.

However, mine opponents are not impressed with the Kennecott promise based on the company's other projects, in fact, the Save the Wild UP Web site states that the EPA has "Kennecott as their third worst polluter."

The difference between Marquette County's traditional iron ore mines and the nickel and copper produced by a sulfide mine is the sulphur, opponents say.

"In metallic sulfide mining they have to line everything because in the rock is sulphur," said Cynthia Pryor, Sulfide Mining Campaign director for the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve. "So, as they blast this rock, and they cart it away and as they store it, it's got sulphur in it, which mixed with air and water creates sulphuric acid."

Opponents are also concerned about the so-called "mushroom effect," because the state law that has allowed sulfide mining by the Eagle Project mine is seen as a test case by other companies who have announced they will likely open dozens of similar mines across the Upper Peninsula.

"Other mining companies have come into the U.P. and have asked to explore" for uranium, gold, diamonds, copper and nickel, Pryor said.

"This is the first (mine) underneath the law, and they are looking to see what happens under that and then it will mushroom out," Pryor said. "Kennecott has said that they have six other sites in very close proximity to Eagle that they are looking at" and have leased land in several other U.P. counties.

Pryor is disappointed that many well-known personalities who claim to love the U.P. have not spoken out against the project including actor Jeff Daniels and Michigan's Democratic Gov. Jennifer Grandholm, who is "standing by" her experts at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

"We have asked so many celebrities, who are Michigan born, bred and raised" and claim to "really care" about the state's environment to oppose the mine but with no response, Pryor said.

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