In 2011, Gogebic Taconite, a Florida-based mining company, proposed building the world’s largest open-pit taconite mine in the Penokee Range within the Lake Superior Basin. Since then, northern Wisconsin has experienced severe controversy regarding the potential effects of the mine on the environment and people of the area. 

The site would lie directly within the Bad River watershed, posing a severe risk to the source of drinking water for Ashland and Iron counties. In addition, the proposed mine has caused great protest within American Indian communities, as the Penokee Range is part of the Ceded Territory of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe. The Bad River reservation is also downstream from the mine, causing further tribal concerns.

Through the Treaty of 1854, deemed still valid by the Seventh Circuit Court in 1985, the Ojibwe reserve the right to hunt, fish and gather on the land conceded to the United States government. The open-pit mine in the Penokee Range would thus infringe on these rights by damaging fish spawning grounds and wild rice beds in addition to polluting the air and drinking water of ceded territories.

Due to new mining legislation SB/AB 1, written in large part by GTAC and signed by Gov. Scott Walker about one year ago, the company will face very loose regulations and be exempt from pre-existing protections of water, land and public health.  

In addition to environmental concerns, the economic gains of the mine are also in question. While proponents of the mine promise new jobs to the region, others speculate that these positions will go to experienced mine workers who have been laid off from recently closed mines in Minnesota. Furthermore, many locals question the effects the mine will have on the tourism in the area, which largely depends on the lakes, waterways, and woods for tourist fishing and hunting.  

Ultimately, the proposed mine poses the question of whether the people of Wisconsin are willing to sacrifice community health, tribal rights and a unique forest and wetland area in order to bring monetary profit to an out-of-state company. 

On many occasions, the Bad River and other Lake Superior Chippewa Bands have fought for their treaty rights as well as the environmental protection of their land, air and water. The U.S. and Wisconsin governments have repeatedly forgotten or disregarded the agreements formed in exchange for taking over the land home to American Indians. Faced with the proposed mine, the Bad River tribe is once again prepared to defend its people and its environment. 

Lawrence “Butch” Stone, a prominent tribal member for Bad River, has experienced countless threats to his people’s wellbeing, including the controversial Walleye Wars of the 1980s and previous mining disputes. When questioned about the tribe’s response to the current mine proposal, Butch describes passionately the timeless issue encountered by his tribe—“They say we get everything for nothing, but we have to fight for everything... now we have to fight for our water and our way of life.”  

How do you feel about the potential economic and environmental backlash of the proposed mine? Is this a good idea for the state of Wisconsin to proceed with in the future? Please send all of your feedback to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

 

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