Racism and resource colonization
by Al Gedicks
“The attacks on our sovereignty and treaties are really attacks on our way of life, our way of viewing things. The environment is critical to our being. The same attacks to separate us from our resources and land are being used in Brazil, Alaska, and elsewhere. It’s really racism, with many different names and faces.”
Wisconsin has, in recent years, been the site of intense racial conflict; it is a conflict that has bitterly divided many northern communities ever since off-reservation treaty rights for Wisconsin Chippewa Indians were reaffirmed by a court decision in 1983. Chippewa seeking to exercise their lawful right to spear fish outside reservation boundaries have been met at the boat landings by angry white protestors, who have hurled rocks, fired shots and yelled racial slurs like “Timber Nigger,” at Indians.
Under the terms of treaties signed in 1837 and 1842, the Chippewa ceded large tracts of land to the federal government but retained the rights to hunt, fish and gather on all lands within the ceded territory, roughly the northern one third of Wisconsin. In 1983 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the state of Wisconsin’s appeal of the “Voigt decision,” which reaffirmed Chippewa treaty rights. While the U.S. Constitution says that treaties are the “Supreme Law of the Land,” the state administration of Governor Tommy Thompson has criticized the Chippewa for exercising their treaty rights. Indeed, as the Strickland report notes, “the state of Wisconsin has acted as if its ‘problem’ in northern Wisconsin is the result of Chippewa behavior.”
The racial hostility that has been directed at Chippewa spearfishers who take approximately three percent of the walleye fish harvest is almost beyond belief. This three percent, as the Strickland report notes, “is subject to more WDNR (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) attention and observation, monitoring, press coverage, and political manipulation than the entire other 97 percent.” Every study that has been done on the impact of Chippewa spearfishing, from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commisssion, to the most recent report commissioned by the U.S. Congress, has failed to find any evidence that the Chippewas are threatening the fish resource.
On the other hand, the State of Wisconsin, especially the executive branch, has been actively promoting plans for a mining district in the ceded territory of the Wisconsin Chippewa that has the potential to cause serious long term damage to the resource and economic base of northern Wisconsin. The mass media has inadvertently assisted the anti-Indian movement by narrowly focusing public attention and discussion on the more sensationalistic aspects of the treaty controversy while virtually ignoring the economic and political context of the issue. Underneath all the racist rhetoric of the spearfishing controversy lies the essential and inseparable connection between the political assault against Indian treaties and the corporate assault on the environment in the 1990s. By focusing on the issue of resource control in the ceded territory it is possible to see the convergence between the anti-Indian movement, represented by groups like Protect Americans’ Rights and Resources (PARR) and Stop Treaty Abuse (STA), and the pro-mining policy of the Thompson administration in Wisconsin. This convergence between anti-Indian sentiment and mineral interests is best understood as the most recent episode in a long history of Indian dispossessions.
2.Treaties and Minerals
Long before Columbus set sail for the “New World,” the Chippewa bands who inhabited the Lake Superior region knew of its rich copper deposits. The desire to control mineral deposits in Indian territory was a major component in the series of treaties that followed the early adventurers.
In 1826, at Fond du Lac, one of the first treaties between the United States and the Chippewa gave the U.S. mining rights to all of Chippewa country. The 1828 Treaty of Green Bay dispossessed the Winnebago, Potawatomi and Chippewa of their lead mines. The 1842 “”Miners Treaty” of La Pointe dispossessed the Chippewa of the Keeweenaw, Michigan copper districts. Finally, the Chippewa were dispossessed of the iron wealth in northern Minnesota in the Treaty of 1854.
Wholesale impoverishment of the Chippewa enriched several generations of East Coast copper and iron-mining families, including the Aggasiz and the Rockefellers. It also set in motion the great mining and lumber booms, which then went bust, leaving large portions of the Lake Superior region in a severe economic depression that still continues today.
More than a century after the first mining treaty, competition for Indian land and resources continues. The Lake Superior region of northern Wisconsin, northern Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is considered a prime place for mineral deposits because it lies in the southernmost extension of the Canadian Shield (formerly known as the Chippewa Lobe). Its Precambrian glacial rock is believed to be some two billion years old. Up until the late 1960s, little was known about the distribution of metallic ores because the region was overlain by a concealing layer of glacial debris. Multinational mining and energy corporations began intensive geophysical exploration in northern Wisconsin in the wake of the revolts that swept the Third World in the l960s. The resulting shaky investment climates – with threats of expropriation, nationalization, and higher taxes – scared many mining firms considering the billion-dollar capital outlay and the decade-long lead time to reap profits. To lessen the risks, multinationals intensified their search for “politically secure” supplies of raw materials. From the corporate viewpoint, “political stability” means the extraction of minerals at extremely high rates of profit with very little risk or interference from democratic institutions. Historially, one of their most stable investment areas have been Indian lands.
In l975 the U.S. Bureau of Mines, under contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), began a systematic mineral resource evaluation of U.S. Indian reservations. In 1976, the BIA reported that copper, zinc, gold and uranium might be found beneath various Wisconsin Indian lands. In 1976, Exxon Minerals announced its discovery of one of the world’s largest zinc-copper deposits near Crandon, Wisconsin. The site, claimed by the Sokaogon Chippewa under an 1854 treaty, lies a mile from the lake where they have gathered wild rice for centuries. In 1994 the Sokaogon lost an eight-year legal battle to retain treaty rights to a 144-square mile area in northeast Wisconsin that includes the site of a proposed Exxon mine. Should Exxon build a mine, acid runoff and seepage could destroy the lake, the mainstay of the Chippewa’s subsistence economy and culture. The tribe was not reassured when an Exxon biologist mistook the wild rice for “a bunch of weeds.” Exxon’s own environmental impact report blandly mentioned that “the means of subsistence on the reservation” may be “rendered less than effective.”
From Exxon’s perspective, there was never any question of whether there was going to be a mine, only when. Robert Davis and Mark Zannis have summed up what lies behind such an attitude: “Simply stated, the difference between the economics of the ‘old colonialism,’ with its reliance on territorial conquest and manpower, and the ‘new colonialism,’ with its reliance on technologically-oriented resource extraction and transportation to the metropolitan centres, is the expendable relationship of the subject peoples to multinational corporations.”
Since the mid-1970s, multinational mining corporations have quietly leased the mineral rights to over 300,00 acres of land in the ceded territory of Wisconsin (see Map #1). The top corporate leaseholders include Exxon, Kerr-McGee, Noranda, BHP-Utah International and Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ). The long-range planning of these corporations envisions the Lake Superior region as a new resource colony that will provide cheap raw materials for corporate growth and diversification and a dumping ground for the toxic wastes left behind from the mining process. A 1976 University of Wisconsin report is explicit on this point: “…mining waste, because of acid drainage or the discovery of potentially carcinogenic material in the waste, may have long-term effects on the natural and cultural environment. Because these effects may occur only as an act of God and long after the mining firm has left the area, repairs and compensation may become the responsibility of the public sector. In certain cases the potential for damage may be so severe as to require perpetual monitoring and maintenance similar to that done by federal authorities with radioactive waste material.”
3. Scapegoating the Chippewa
While multinational mining and energy corporations were exploring, drilling , leasing and preparing to mine the region’s mineral resources, the leaders of Protect Americans’ Rights and Resources (PARR) and Stop Treaty Abuse (STA) were blaming the Chippewa for the economic decline of the tourist industry. Anti-treaty groups found a receptive audience in northern Wisconsin, where per capita income has lagged behind the rest of the state and where unemployment rates are higher than the state and national averages.
Has northern Wisconsin tourism suffered as a result of Chippewa spearing activities, as the anti-treaty groups claim? Director of the Wisconsin Division of Tourism, Dick Matty, has stated that there has been “no real negative impact” on tourism as a result of Chippewa spearfishing. Chamber of Commerce officials in northern communities like Minocqua and Boulder Junction report that tourism is booming.
However, there have been significant changes in Wisconsin’s tourism economy that were having negative economic effects prior to the Voigt Decision and off-reservation spearfishing. A 1981 Wisconsin tourism industry study concluded: “Resort problems were shown to increase with the age of the resort. Those that appear to be having the most significant problems, however, were built prior to 1930. Twenty-five percent of these resorts were shown to have declining occupancy trends. This may be attributable to the declining quality of these resorts due to their age and the fact that over 60% of their owners have not made any improvements or done upkeep since the resort was built.” As newer and more modern resorts attract tourists away from the antiquated ones, the Chippewa have become convenient scapegoats for the failure of these mom and pop resorts.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) has also contributed to the scapegoating of the Chippewa by the way it has manipulated the bag limits on non-Indian sportfishing. The WDNR’s own studies have shown a steadily decreasing walleye fish population for decades due to habitat destruction and pollution. At the same time, sportfishing demands have risen. In 1979 a WDNR report recommended decreasing bag limits as an option, long before the spearfishing controversy. “However, ” as the Strickland report has noted, “for the past two years the WDNR has only reduced the bag limit on those lakes speared by the Chippewa, making it appear that the Chippewa are responsible for the reduction in bag limits. Although the bag limit reduction has been long in coming, the state refuses to acknowledge that the lowering of the bag limit is due to other factors and not to Chippewa exercise of reserved rights. Resort owners, already feeling the pinch of changing vacation planning, fear that these lower bag limits will decrease tourism and blame the Chippewa.”
By scapegoating the Chippewa for the economic problems of northern Wisconsin, anti-treaty groups and the state have diverted attention from the significant environmental threats to the economy and culture of both Indian and non-Indian communities in the northwoods. The Chippewa, along with the other Indian nations in northern Wisconsin, already suffer a disproportionate environmental risk of illness and other health problems from eating fish, deer and other wildlife contaminated with industrial pollutants like airborne PCB’s (polychlorinted biphenyls), mercury and other toxics deposited on land and water. “Fish and game have bioaccumulated these toxic chemicals,” according to a 1992 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study, “to levels posing substantial health, ecological, and cultural risks to a Native Ameican population that relies heavily on local fish and game for subsistence. As the extent of fish and game contamination is more fully investigated by state and federal authorities, advisories suggesting limited or no consumption of fish and game are being established for a large portion of the Tribes’ traditional hunting and fishing areas.” To suggest that the treaty rights of the Chippewa are a threat to the economy of northern Wisconsin is to promote the most cynical sort of victim-blaming. “Sooner or later,” says Anishinabe (Chippewa) treaty rights activist Walt Bresette, “people in northern Wisconsin will realize that the environmental threat is more of a threat to their lifestyle than Indians who go out and spear fish…I think, in fact, that we have more things in common with the anti-Indian people than we have with the State of Wisconsin.”
4. Resisting Tribal Resistance
In their attempt to gain control over low-cost Indian resources in the ceded territory of Wisconsin, multinational corporations have contributed to a growing tribal nationalism on the reservations. “It is not surprising,” says one legal scholar, “that tribal nationalism should reemerge most dramatically in the management of reservation resources. Tribal occupancy of land has always been at the very foundation of the unique existence of America’s Indian tribes.” Since the 1950s, tribes have gone from being “politically stable” resource colonies to sovereign governments trying to assert and defend their treaty rights.
Both the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa and the Lac Courte Oreilles Chippewa have objected to mines proposed by Noranda and RTZ respectively, because the pollution from these mines would degrade the habitat for hunting and fishing in Chippewa ceded territory. Federal courts have consistently found that treaty Indians have “an environmental right” to preserve fishing habitats.
And in 1986, in Wisconsin, the Exxon mine project was put on hold – partly due to stiff resistance from a coalition of Indians and environmentalists. Seven years later, Exxon and Canada-based Rio Algom formed the Crandon Mining Company (CMC) and announced plans to pursue mining permits once again. Indians, environmentalists and sportfishing groups have vowed to stop the project.
Pro-mining interests have responded with renewed calls for Congress to terminate treaties. Often, abrogation has been portrayed as needed to “free” the Indian. At the same time, the increased exercise of tribal authority in zoning, taxation, construction and land-use ordinances has spurred non-Indian resentment. Organized reactions to the exercise of tribal authority began in the western states of Washington, Montana and Wyoming with the formation of such groups as Quinault Property Owners Association, Montanans Opposed to Discrimination, and Wyoming Citizens for Equality in Government. In 1976 many of these groups came together in the Interstate Congress for Equal Rights and Responsibilities (ICERR). This organized anti-Indian network “linked on-reservation non-Indian landowner opposition to tribal governments with off-reservation non-Indian sport and commercial fishermen opposed to tribal treaty protected fishing rights.”
In Wisconsin, anti-treaty groups organized after the 1983 Voigt Decision reaffirmed the off-reservation treaty rights of the Chippewa. These groups took names like Wisconsin Alliance for Rights and Resources (WARR) and Equal Rights for Everyone, and tried to convince the public that the Chippewa were out to “rape” the resources. Their members used slogans like “Save a deer, shoot an Indian” and “Save a fish, spear an Indian.”
In 1985, WARR founder Larry Peterson started yet another anti-treaty organization called Protect Americans’ Rights and Resources (PARR). The new organization has tried to avoid some of the overt, blatant racism of its predecessors. According to PARR, the problem is not so much the Indian as the federal government which keeps the Indian separate from the rest of society. The solution, according to Peterson, is to make Indians like all other citizens.
PARR’s literature emphasizes the national concerns of its members. In 1987, PARR hosted a national meeting of the anti-Indian movement in Wausau, Wisconsin, and representatives from almost every active anti-treaty organization in the country attended. Out of this meeting came a national effort “to push the U.S. Congress to study and change federal Indian policies.”
With the election of Tommy Thompson as state governor in 1986, the anti-treaty movement went from the margins to the mainstream of Wisconsin politics. Thompson, in a campaign speech to PARR, had said: “I believe spearing is wrong, regardless of what treaties, negotiations or federal courts may say.” And he appointed, as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Administration, a man who had been Exxon’s chief lobbyist while the company was seeking state permits to mine near Crandon – James Klauser. Klauser was also a mining consultant to the Wisconsin Association of Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), the state’s most influential business lobby. Speaking before a 1981 Democratic Party meeting in Madison, Klauser said “Wisconsin has world-class mining potential…It’s really hard to appreciate the mammothness and the potential impact of this industry.” Some of the most active members of WMC are Milwaukee-based mining equipment firms like Harnischfeger Industries, the world’s leading supplier of underground and surface mining equipment.
One of Klauser’s first acts as the governor’s top policy adviser was to arrange a meeting in the governor’s office for Exxon vice-president Ray Ingram to explore the possibilities of the company’s reapplying for mine permits. Although Exxon did not reapply at that time, Kennecott Copper Corporation announced its decision in May 1987 to seek permits for its Flambeau river site near Ladysmith, Wisconsin. But the authorities of Rusk County (where the site lay) had adopted a tough mining code to protect the environemnt. According to reports in the Wisconsin State Journal, Kennecott developed a sophisticated strategy to override this “extremely onerous” code and “neutralize” the opposition.
Integral to this strategy was the role played by the governor’s ad hoc task force on mining, created in May 1987. This recommended legislation be passed so that so-called “local agreements” between communities and mining companies could bypass the county ordinance. This legislation was drafted with the help of a Kennecott lawyer and added to Wisconsin’s 1988 budget bill. Thompson signed the amendment into law in May 1988. It was the single most important piece of legislation for promoting mining in Wisconsin and it was passed without public hearings or public discussion of any kind.
6. The “Indian problem”
The other potential legal obstacle to opening the Northwoods to mining was the assertion of treaty rights. Governor Thompson’s response to racist violence against the Chippewa for exercising their lawful treaty rights was to propose buying or leasing such treaty rights from them in exchange for cash and government services. Klauser was the governor’s personal representative in the treaty negotiations.
But most tribes rejected such negotiations outright, and two voted down proposals in referendums. One of the major issues of concern to those arguing against such proposals was the possibility that to lease out treaty rights would provide a way for mining companies to acquire mineral rights on reservation lands. In fact, although rarely mentioned, after such buy-outs, Congress is more likely to consider changing treaty rights. Rep. David Obey (Dem. – Wis.) told Douglas County Democrats on February 16, 1990 that such an agreement, once ratified by Congress, would be a “new deal; the old deal is gone.”
When the anti-Indian movement increased its agitation, the state was able to intervene and suggest that some form of de facto treaty abrogation was a reasonable way of resolving the conflict. Throughout the controversy, both Thompson and Klauser contined to meet with representatives of PARR and the more militant Stop Treaty Abuse (STA). The political legitimacy extended to these racist groups should not be underestimated.
Both PARR and STA are member groups of the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA), a national alliance of the anti-Indian movement. Fred Hatch, a former Bureau of Indian Affairs lawyer who is now general counsel for STA and its delegate to CERA, describes CERA as “a political lobby of ranchers, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and large corporations like Burlington Northern and Exxon, everybody’s friend…All of these companies are having problems with the Federal Indian policy.” In 1988, CERA joined other right-wing extremist groups like the American Freedom Coalition and corporations like Exxon at a “Multiple Use Strategy Conference” in Reno, Nevada. This conference was called in response to attempts by a broad environmental coalition to reform the 1872 Mining Law, which gives mining companies access to federal land for as little as $5.00/acre without having to restore it or pay royalties. By preaching the “continued multiple use” of public lands, the industry has appealed to ranchers, loggers, and anti-Indian groups in a backlash against emerging environmental reforms.
7. The county connection
While the conference was important in establishing links between the anti-Indian movement and the anti-environmental movement, CERA’s ties with the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA) are crucial for the legitimation of anti-Indian politics in mainstream national political debate.
The backlash against Chippewa treaty rights has extended to many Wisconsin county governments, who fear that the Chippewa, as well as practicing off-reservation hunting and fishing, might exercise their right to harvest timber on public (county) lands. That treaty claim had been rejected by a federal judge, but the counties continue to be concerned about questions of jurisdiction as between tribe and county.
WCA executive director Mark Rogacki has taken a leadership role in organizing counties “from all over the United States, which are on or near Indian reservations, into a National Coalition on Federal Indian Policy.” According to Rogacki, the exercise of treaty rights is “not in tune with contemporary society or the needs of local government.” In 1990, Rogacki brought together county association representatives from nine other states to examine how treaty rights affect local government and prepare a strategy to lobby Congress for change.
Klauser was there too. Rogacki explained his participation reflected the fact that “the (Thompson) administration and the county governments share the perspective that the federal government has to settle these matters.” Also among the speakers at the conference was the WCA general counsel, Milwaukee attorney Robert Mulcahy. Mulcahy has led a court battle, on behalf of most Wisconsin Counties Forest Association members, against the rights of the Chippewa to harvest timber. In February 1991, Mulcahy told a WCA meeting in Madison: “Timber is not the only issue…Not many understand. Mining is the real issue. Serious claims are being made against mining in the Ladysmith area. Anti-mining groups are surfacing and doing leafletting. There is even State legislation introduced for a moratorium on mining.” At that meeting, a Wisconsin Counties Forest Association representative told WCA members that 56 percent of the public land in the state is in the County Forest system and that the counties “would realize big profits if they could open these lands to mining.” Once again, we see the convergence between the anti-Indian movement and pro-mining interests at both the state and county levels of government.
8. Treaty Rights and Environmental Protectio
“What is perhaps most important about Indian treaty rights,” says Anishinabe (Chippewa) treaty rights activist Winona La Duke, “is the power of the treaties to clarify issues which would otherwise be consigned by nation-state apologists to the realm of ‘opinion’ and ‘interpretation.’ The treaties lay things out clearly, and they are matters of international law.” One of the landmark cases which clearly demonstrated the inseparable connection between treaty rights and environmental protection was the widely publicized Northwestern U.S. treaty rights conflict over fish in the late 1960s.
The case attracted considerable attention when Marlon Brando, Dick Gregory and Jane Fonda stood alongside native American fishermen and women who were exercising their treaty rights to fish in defiance of sportsmen and state authorities. Indian fisher-people in the Northwest had been arrested during similar “fishing wars” since the turn of the century, despite the 1854 Medicine Creek Treaty, which affirmed their right to fish “…as long as the rivers run.” In 1974 U.S. Judge George Boldt ruled that Indians were entitled to catch as many as half the fish returning to off-reservation sites which had been the “usual and accustomed places” when the treaties were signed. When Judge Boldt made his ruling in U.S. v. Washington he realized that these rights were meaningless if there were no fish to catch. The issue was addressed by Judge William Orrick in Phase II of U.S. v. Washington in 1980. The judge ruled that “The most fundamental prerequisite to exercising the right to take fish is the existence of fish to be taken.” If the State of Washington were allowed to destroy the fishery habitat by licensing dams and logging operations it would amount to an abrogation of the Indians’ right to fish. The court ruled that treaty Indians have an implicit right to have the fishery habitat protected.
While the ruling did not give the Northwest tribes absolute power to veto development projects it did give them legal standing to challenge actions or policies that may have a detrimental effect on their right to a fishery. The burden of proof was divided between the state and the tribes. Since Judge Orrick’s decision, the Indians of the Skagit River – the Upper Skagit Tribe, the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe and the Swinomish Tribal Community – have used their treaty rights to protect the fish in the Skagit River from proposed dams and a nuclear power plant. “Without the treaty case law,” said Russ Busch, attorney for Upper Skagit and Sauk-Suiattle, “more than half of our arguments against nuclear plants would have no teeth.”
While the boundaries of the tribe’s right to protect the environment is still being reviewed in the courts, the tribes have continued to develop their management capabilities to such an extent that state and federal agencies have been forced to acknowledge the region’s tribes as co-managers of the fishery resource.
9. Regional resource co-management
Yet another possible model of resouce co-management has developed out of the intense treaty rights conflict over Chippewa spearfishing in northern Wisconsin. Once the Chippewa’s treaty-guaranteed rights were affirmed by the courts in 1983, the tribes had to develop their managerial capabilities at the same time as they confronted racist mobs at the boat landings. To counter the racist violence and hostility directed against Chippewa spearfishers, a number of religious, environmental and treaty rights support groups came together to provide witnesses for nonviolence at the boat landings and to conduct public education about Chippewa treaty rights. These groups included Witness for Nonviolence, HONOR (Honor Our Neighbors Origins and Rights), Midwest Treaty Network, the Wisconsin Greens, Northern Thunder and the American Indian Movement (AIM). By 1991, almost 2000 witnesses had been trained in the philosophy and practice of non-violence, treaty history, and environmental and cultural issues in northern Wisconsin. As a result of their non-violent activism on behalf of Chippewa treaty rights, many witnesses have joined Anishinaabe Niijii (Friends of the Chippewa), an Indian-environmentalist coalition, in defending Indian lands against unwanted mining development.
After years of racial backlash to off-reservation spearfishing, the anti-Indian movement in Wisconsin has suffered a number of setbacks that have resulted in much smaller crowds protesting Chippewa spearfishing. In March 1991, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb issued a permanent injunction against protestors interfering physically, whether on the lake or at the boat landings, with Chippewa fishermen and women.
Now that the immediate threat of anti-Indian violence has subsided, the important long-range resource management work of the tribes will assume greater visibility and importance. One of the great ironies of the Chippewa spearfishing controversy is that the Chippewa and their white neighbors were fighting over the right to harvest contaminated fish. A recent Department of Natural Resources (DNR) study shows that increased walleye consumption is leading to higher levels of mercury in Chippewa blood, posing a health risk, especially for pregnant women and young children. The walleye is a large gamefish that is a staple in the Chippewa diet; it also has the most mercury-tainted flesh. The DNR’s most recent “Health Guide for People Who Eat Sport Fish from Wisconsin Waters” lists 217 waterbodies with varying consumption limits for mercury-polluted fish. As more lakes are tested more lakes are added to the list. Since 1982 the DNR had tested 700 of the state’s 15,000 lakes; usually one out of three lakes makes it on the advisory list.
In the spring of 1992, for the first time, Chippewa spearfishers actually refused to spear certain lakes because of Department of Natural Resource (DNR) fish advisories. Anishinabe (Chippewa) treaty rights activist Walt Bresette says “I refuse to eat the fish and I refuse to let my family eat the fish because of the toxins.” If new mines are constructed in northern Wisconsin they will be a major new source of mercury contamination. Mercury is released during mineral processing and is leached into waterways from mine wastes (tailings). In the nearby Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the National Wildlife Federation and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs sued the White Pine copper mine and smelter for emitting mercury, lead and arsenic over the waters of nearby Lake Superior at five times the legal limit. The U.S. EPA had listed Copper Range, the mine’s owner, as Michigan’s “most prolific polluter.” In 1995, the company paid $1.8 million in penalties for air pollution violations in the largest settlement since the passage of the Clean Air Act.
The prospect of a new resource colony in northern Wisconsin, with multiple mines at the headwaters of the state’s major rivers, and mountains of toxic mine wastes, is a nightmare scenario for Walt Bresette, a member of the Red Cliff Chippewa Tribe and a founder of the Lake Superior Greens, an environmental organization. Nor is this what the Lake Superior Chippewa tribes had in mind when they formed the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) in 1984. GLIFWC’s role was to provide coordination and services for the implementation of their treaty rights in the ceded territory and to represent tribal interests in natural resource management. In addition, GLIFWC sought to provide ecosystem protection, “recognizing that fish, wildlife and wild plants cannot long survive in abundance in an environment that has been degraded.” In place of the resource colony being imposed by multinational mining corporations and the state, Bresette wants to declare an “environmental zone” to be jointly managed by the state and the tribes. “The ceded territory (treaty lands) would be the first ‘toxic free zone’ in the state if not the country,” says Bresette. Rather than mines and toxic waste dumps, the zone would be a haven for vacationers and people seeking a healthy place to live.
“Under this plan,” writes Bresette and Winnebago co-author James Yellowbank, “the 42% of Northern Wisconsin which is ceded land would be phased into a co-management program that ultimately would prohibit pollution. It would simultaneously develop jobs and rural community reinvestment opportunties through a ten year environmental cleanup program.” By proposing the general outlines of an alternative economic development plan for the ceded territory, Bresette and Yellowbank, along with the Wisconsin Greens, want to reopen and broaden the public debate about the economic and environmental future of northern Wisconsin. At the same time, the serious consideration of such a plan would pose a direct ideological challenge to the traditional export-based models of economic development. Since the promise of job opportunities is the major, if not the only appeal of the mining industry to depressed northern Wisconsin communities, the treaty-based alternative economic development plan for northern Wisconsin holds much promise as an ecologically preferable way of creating sustainable jobs for both Indians and non-Indians.
Indian control over reservation air and water quality is long overdue. Tribal lands were overlooked in the original versions of many federal environmental laws of the 1960s and 1970s, including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. In 1984 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would pursue government to government relations with tribes. In 1994-95, five Wisconsin Indian Tribes asked the U.S. EPA for greater regulatory authority over reservation air and water quality. The Forest County Potawatomi Tribe asked for tougher air pollution standards on its reservation under the federal Clean Air Act. Meanwhile, the Sokaogon Chippewa, Menominee, Oneida and Lac du Flambeau Chippewa Tribes were granted independent authority from the EPA to regulate water quality on their reservations. Under amendments to the Clean Water Act, the EPA can designate tribes as independent regulators of surface water quality in the same way the EPA can give authority to states. Tribal regulatory authority would affect all upstream industrial and municipal facilities, including Exxon’s proposed mine in the Swamp Creek watershed. Because Swamp Creek flows into the Sokaogon Chippewa’s Rice Lake, the tribe has to give approval for any physical, chemical or biological upstream activity that might degrade their wild rice beds.
At public hearings on the Sokaogon Chippewa request, local citizens, lake associations and the Wolf River Watershed Alliance testified in support of tribal regulatory authority. Many of the local lake property owners asscoiations expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the way in which Republican Governor Tommy Thompson and his chief aide, James Klauser, paved the way for mining by making the DNR Secretary a political appointment and eliminating the Public Intervenor’s Office. The experts hired by the Public Intervenor had raised serious questions about the scientific adequacy of Exxon’s groundwater studies and their waste disposal plans. Many citizens applauded the tribe for trying to preserve clean water for everybody.
Some local business people testified in opposition, charging that the regulations would “shut down northern Wisconsin.” This was the same kind of misinformation used by those who opposed Chippewa off-reservation spearfishing during the turmoil lasting from 1984-1992. The Wisconsin Mining Association, representing some of the largest mining equipment companies in Milwaukee, warned that tribal water quality authority “could be the most controversial and contentious environmental development affecting the state in decades.”
Both Governor Thompson and the Wisconsin DNR had urged EPA denial of tribal regulatory authority over air and water quality standards. Within a week of EPA approval of Sokaogon Chippewa and Onedia water quality authority, Wisconsin Attorney General James Doyle sued the EPA in federal court, demanding that the federal government reverse its decision to let Indian tribes make their own water pollution laws. Several Republican state legislators called upon Congress to change the Clean Air Act to disallow tribal authority over clean air standards. Once again, mainstream politicians are using scare tactics to suggest that Indian sovereignty over reservation resources is an economic threat to small business owners while they ignore the serious potential for long term damage to the resource and economic base of northern Wisconsin from large scale mining and waste disposal.
In response to the state’s challenge of EPA’s delegation of water quality authority to the tribes, the Wolf River Watershed Alliance filed an amicus or “friend of the court” brief supporting EPA’s approval of tribal authority. “If the state is stupid enough to appeal this thing, we’ll certainly write a brief detailing all the instances where the state has been derelict in its authority or abdicated its responsibility,’ said Robert Schmitz, president of the alliance. Meanwhile, a federal court ruling in Montana has upheld the right of Indian tribes to set water quality standards on their reservations.
10. Showdown at Ladysmith
The Kennecott/RTZ open pit copper mine in Ladysmith, Wisconsin lies just 140 feet from the Flambeau River, one of the state’s most pristine waterways and a prime area for walleye fishing. The site is also within the ceded territory of the Lake Superior Chippewa. In 1989, the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Chippewa Tribe opposed RTZ’s mine application, arguing that the State of Wisconsin “cannot issue a permit (to mine) unless and until RTZ can prove that its mining activities will not degrade the plant or animal resources in the ceded territory.” Wisconsin’s five other Chippewa tribes, along with treaty-rights support groups, and grassroots environmental organizations, soon joined the LCO Chippewa in their battle against RTZ.
The Ladysmith battle has a significance far beyond this community of 3,800. Kennecott/RTZ’s ability to overcome an Indian-environmentalist opposition at Ladysmith was seen as a hopeful sign by at least six companies planning to mine identified ore deposits across northern Wisconsin. The mine’s permits were granted in January 1991 after studies claimed that “no threatened or endangered species are known to exist at the mine site.”53 In June 1991, two endangered mussels (the purple wartyback and the bullhead) were discovered in the river, well after the 30-day limit had expired for citizens and tribes to appeal a ruling that had upheld the permits. Meanwhile, an internal memo had been leaked from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that revealed that agency scientists were aware during the permitting process that endangered species were probably present at the site. In August 1991, the LCO Chippewa Tribe and the Sierra Club won an injunction against further mine construction until the Wisconsin DNR prepared a supplemental environmental impact statement on the endangered species. After the DNR issued a whitewash study on the endangered species, the LCO Chippewa Tribe and the Sierra Club filed a new lawsuit, asking the DNR to reopen the hearings on the mine permits. The suit was thrown out, in part, because the tribe had 30 days to appeal the January 1991 decision to grant the permits and failed to do so. Larry Leventhal, a lawyer for the Lac Courte Oreilles, said the ruling “essentially says if an agency hides information from the public, it won’t be held accountable for it.”54
Resistance to the mine reached a new level when Anishinabe (Chippewa) treaty rights activist Walt Bresette climbed a ten foot high security fence carrying a war club once used by Black Hawk and counted “coup” on some earth movers at the Ladysmith mine site. Bresette hit the machines with his war club but did no physical damage. “It’s obviously an illegal permit,” said Bresette, “so I don’t recognize the authority of this mine to move forward. There’s no proper environmental impact statement completed on this. The State of Wisconsin has, in this permitting process, failed to protect the legal interests of the Lake Superior Chippewa. It’s as though the Voigt Decision never happened. Having secured the boat landings in defense of treaty rights, it’s as though those battles were waged for nought. Wisconsin, under Governor Tommy Thompson, has a legal responsibility to protect the interests of the Lake Superior Chippewa. Instead he acts like a modern day Andrew Jackson who said, after the Cherokee of the 1830s won their rights, ‘Chief Justice Marshall has made his ruling, now let him enforce it.’ Shortly thereafter, despite being armed with the protections of the U.S. Constitution, the Cherokee were marched from their homelands; many died in what has been termed the ‘trail of tears.’ There will be no trail of tears from northern Wisconsin. It is time to stay and fight for our rights This mine as proposed is bad for democracy, bad for the economy and ultimately a threat to the environment. I call upon other tribal members to defend their homeland.”55
While the Chippewa and their allies in the environmental and treaty rights movements lost the battle to stop the mine, they nevertheless established themselves as a political force to be taken into account in the ongoing resistance to future mining projects. Robert Wilson, the chief executive of RTZ Corporation, recently paid a back-handed compliment to the Chippewa-environmental alliance in Wisconsin when he noted that the greatest political risk for new mining projects no longer comes from the developing countires, but from the U.S. and Australia, where opposition movements, as at Ladysmith, have resulted in costly project delays.56
The determination of Native nations to protect their environment from pollution threats was dramatically illustrated last summer (1996) when the group Anishinabe Ogitchida (“Protectors of the People”) successfully blockaded acid supply trains en route to the infamous White Pine copper mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Chippewa protestors said that a spill from tankers carrying sulfuric acid through the Bad River Chippewa reservation would poison their water and scar their land. Besides the threat of a spill, the Chippewa were protesting plans by the Copper Range Corporation to use the acid to extract ore from the White Pine copper mine. The company was going to inject a sulfuric acid solution into old mines in order to leach out the remaining ore. The project involved injecting 550 million gallons of acid into underground tunnels only five miles from Lake Superior.
When the EPA granted a permit for the project without holding a hearing or drafting an environmental impact statement, Anishinabe (Chippewa) activist Walt Bresette decided to form Anishinabe Ogitchida and camp out on the railroad tracks to prevent shipments of sulfuric acid from passing through the Bad River Chippewa Reservation on their way to the mine. “Sovereignty is not something you ask for,” says Bresette. “Sovereignty is the act. This blockade has drawn public attention to the largest ecological threat in our region’s history.” In addition to the blockade, the Bad River and Keweenaw Bay bands of the Chippewa filed a federal lawsuit challenging EPA’s decision not to require a permit for the project or conduct an environmental impact statement. After the suit was filed, EPA decided to do an environmental analysis which could take as long as two years. In October 1996, Copper Range announced it was suspending its solution mining operation because of the uncertainty posed by the new EPA regulatory review process.
11. Lessons from the Wisconsin experience
Historically, the anti-Indian movement is linked to the economic expansionary needs of American capitalism. When the dominant European-American society needed land and raw materials, Indians were defined as a problem or threat, and their lands and resources were taken. Now, having been left with land nobody else wanted, it turns out that some of the last remaining energy and mineral resources are located on Indian lands or on off-reservation lands in the ceded territory of Wisconsin. Once again, national hysteria surrounds “outdated Indian treaties” and the so-called tribal “misuse of resources.” Much of this hysteria is orchestrated by anti-Indian groups, but increasingly, the state itself has played an important part. However formidable this corporate-state alliance may be, it has not been able to roll back Chippewa treaty rights or overcome a grassroots resistance movement of Indians and non-Indians to create the kind of “stable investment climate” that would allow multintional mining corporations to proceed unhindered with their resource extraction schemes.
The Wisconsin Chippewa have not only defended their treaty rights at the boat landings in northern Wisconsin but have also interpreted the treaties to include their rights to protect the habitat for their hunting, fishing and gathering activities. Chippewa tribal leadership on this issue has attracted both grassroots and mainstream environmental organizations and led to a growing alliance between Indians, environmental groups and citizen action groups. And just as important, in terms of future legal action, is official EPA recognition that off- reservation developments pose serious pollution problems for the Tribes which necessitate some kind of government to government cooperation between the Tribes and the states.
Whether one looks at the northwestern U.S. fishing rights conflict or the recent victory of the Cree and Inuit to save their lands from being submerged by the James Bay hydroelectric projects in far northern Quebec, or the Chippewa treaty controversy in Wisconsin, there is an integral connection between the defense of treaty rights and the defense of the environment. Once the Chippewa of Wisconsin or the Crees and Inuit of Canada asserted their sovereignty and their rights to control the natural resources within their respective territories, the focus of the debate shifted from how this project will be developed, to who will be involved in the decision-making process.
This shift in the framework of the debate is most significant. Multinational corporations and pro-development governments rarely, if ever, make explicit provisions for real public participation in these resource decisions. For the most part, the extensive planning for these mega-projects is done in secret and presented to the public as a fait accomplit. This helps to promote a “psychology of inevitability” about these projects and discourages any potential opposition from arising until it is too late to stop the project. However, once native groups are able to assert their right to participate in the decision-making process the momentum of the corporate-state machine is slowed down, at least temporarily, as natives and their environmental allies share their concerns about the wide-ranging social, economic and environmental impacts of these projects with a larger audience.
To: William Meyer, Production Editor
From: Al Gedicks, contributor to The Struggle for Ecological Democracy
Re: Responses to copyediting of “Racism and Resource Colonization”
Please send all future correspondence to: Al Gedicks, Dept. of Sociology, North Hall, University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, WI 54601.
p. 389 , footnote 1: Ed Bearheart is being quoted. He is a St. Croix Chippewa tribal council member.
p. 389, footnote 1: The editors of America’s Original Sin are Bob Hulteen and Jim Wallis.
p. 390, footnote 7: This document is a monograph published by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
p. 389, footnote 2: This is an unpublished monograph.
p. 369, last paragraph: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources should be in brackets. It was not part of the original quotation.
p. 389, footnote 4: Chippewa Treaty Harvest of Natural Resources: Wisconsin 1983-1990
p. 372 3rd paragraph, line 3: delete the hyphen and Utath International after BHP. Map # 1 is enclosed.
p. 377, 1st line: Flambeau River
p. 378, 2nd paragraph, line 2: anti-Indian organizations
p. 379 , 2nd paragraph, line 2: [Thompson]
p. 380, 1st paragraph: U.S. Judge George Boldt of the Federal District Court in Tacoma, Washington. U.S. Judge William Orrick of the Federal District Court in Tacoma, Washington.
p. 381, 2nd paragraph: Federal District Court Judge Barbara Crabb in Madison, Wisconsin.
p. 383, 2nd paragraph, line 8: delete Menominee from list of tribes granted independent authority from the EPA.
p. 384, 1st paragraph, line 3: associations
p. 386, 2nd paragraph: counting “coup” means striking at your enemy, in traditional Indian warfare. It is defined in the next sentence as “hitting the machine with a war club.” If this is too complex, it can be changed to read: “carrying a war club once used by Black Hawk and clubbed several earth movers at the Ladysmith mine site. It was an act of defiance but did no physical damage.”
June 2, 1998
Mr. William Meyer, Production Editor
72 Spring Street
New York, N.Y. 10012
Dear Mr Meyer,
This is to confirm that Guilford Publications has permission to reprint in your volume on The Struggle for Ecological Democracy the map of areas targeted by mining companies for mineral leasing and exploration published in Land Grab: The Corporate Theft of Wisconsin’s Mineral Resources.