Compiled by Al Gedicks, Exec. Secretary
210 Avon Street #4
La Crosse, WI 54603-3097
(608) 784-4399
Revised and Updated, August 1999
Environmental Aspects Socio-Economic Aspects Cultural Aspects Sources

Note: Sources are footnotes indicated in report by ( number).

Cultural Aspects

"The Mole Lake reservation was designed to guarantee forever the Sokaogon's control of the aquatic resources of Rice Lake, its clean water, fish, waterfowl, and, most important, its wild rice."

Robert Gough, "A Cultural-Historical Assessment of the Wild Rice Resource of the Sokaogon Chippewa," in COACT Research, Inc., An Analysis of the Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts of Mining and Mineral Resource  Development on the Sokaogon Chippewa Community, Madison, Wisconsin 1980, p. 390.

"The Wolf River is the lifeline of the Menominee people and central to our existence. We will let no harm come to the river."

John Teller, former Menominee Tribal Chairman, in Isthmus (Madison, WI), 5/26/95

"The mine as proposed would be a serious threat to the Wolf River as a trout stream, recreational river, and tourist economy. The Wolf River is, indeed a very unique river, one of the last clean, large white water trout streams in the midwest. The river is irreplacable and priceless."

Herb Buettner, Wolf River Chapter, Trout Unlimited

1. Threats to Native American Cultures Are Inseparable from Environmental Threats

"Indian tribes in the northern portions of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan are seriously threatened by sulfide mining operations in ways that are difficult for non-Indians to perceive. For Indian people, natural resource harvest is more than a means to provide food. It is a cultural activity that renews both the Indian person and the resource that is harvested."(71) 

a. threats to Native American cultures are primarily environmental.  The Chippewa, along with 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 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury and other toxins deposited on land and water. "Fish and game have accumulated these toxic chemicals to levels posing substantial health, ecological, and cultural risks to a Native American population that relies heavily on local fish and game for subsistence."  The importance of subsistence hunting and gathering can be seen in the fact that 86% of Sokaogon Chippewa families rely on hunting and fishing for food, and over 90% rely on gardening, ricing and picking wild plants.(73) 

b. the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has noted the centrality of wild rice to Chippew culture in their analysis of Exxon's proposed mine: "Rice Lake and the bounty of the lake's harvest lie at the center of their identity as a people...The rice and the lake are the major link between themselves, Mother Earth, their ancestors and future generations."(74)   Compare this to Exxon's biologist dismissing Chippewa concern over "those lake weeds."(75) 

c. Both Exxon and the State of Wisconsin have sued  the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for granting Mole Lake the authority to regulate water quality on their reservation and to protect their sacred wild rice beds from upstream mining pollution. On April 28, 1999, the U.S. District Court dismissed the State of Wisconsin's suit against the EPA and Mole Lake. This ruling says the Tribe cannot rely on the Wisconsin DNR to protect its water and wild rice resources from mining pollution.(76)  The State of Wisconsin is appealing this decision. 

c. a recent study commissioned by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) concluded that harmful effects on wild rice seedlings were noted at levels as low as 10 parts per million (ppm) for aluminum and 1 ppm for copper, mercury and cadmium.(77) 

d. although the Exxon/Rio Algom proposed mine, immediately adjacent to the Mole Lake reservation is still in the permitting process, the pre-mining operation has already threatened important reservation water resources: "As a result of groundwater discharges by Exxon Minerals Company to Duck Lake in the early 1980s, the lake's water chemistry was altered. A state threatened species of pondweed, which was found in the lake before the discharges, has not been found there since."(78) 

e.  The Mole Lake Reservation (formed in 1939) is a prime harvester of wild rice in Wisconsin. Mole Lake Chippewa leaders fear that Exxon's extensive groundwater pump tests in the area may have already affected the flow of water into Rice Lake and be partly to blame for the failure of the 1995 rice harvest. 

f. The Green Bay Regional Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it was the opinion of the U.S. Interior Department "that the proposed Crandon Mining Company project may have a substantial and unacceptable impact on aquatic resources of national importance."(79) 

2. Mining would interfere with the exercise of Chippewa off-reservation harvest rights

a. The planned mine lies on territory sold by the Chippewa Nation to the U.S. in 1842, and directly on a 12-square mile tract of land promised to the Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa in 1855.  Treaties guaranteed Chippewa access to wild rice, fish and some wild game on ceded lands. Any contamination of deer, fish, or wild rice from mine pollution would be a direct assault on Chippewa treaty rights. 

b. Threats from mining are not new to the region. Just recently, the White Pine, Michigan smelter, operated by the Copper Range Company, agreed to a multimillion dollar settlement in an air pollution lawsuit. The smelter was emitting mercury, lead and arsenic over the waters of nearby Lake Superior at five times the legal limit.(80)   These emissions were seen by the Lake Superior Tribes as a direct threat to their treaty rights "to enjoy consumption of uncontaminated fish."(81) 

3. Mining would have a disproportionately negative impact upon tribal lands and cultures.

a. with mining-related population increases the Sokaogon Chippewa can expect increased pressures on their forest resources, particularly deer and fish. While recent court decisions have recognized tribal treaty rights to these resources, mining-related population growth may significantly reduce tribal access to these resources through a reduction in the absolute numbers of fish and deer. 

b. the Sokaogon Chippewa community is especially vulnerable to the problems of acid mine drainage coming from the toxic mine waste area because of its extremely small land base (approximately 1900 acres), its delicate ecology of forests and forested wetlands and the direct connection between surface and groundwaters in most of Forest County.(82)  The Interior Department concluded that "The drawdown of ground water (cone of depression) which will lower water levels in adjacent lakes, streams, and wetlands and potential contamination of ground water may affect the value of these waterways for fish and wildlife, and the subsequent human (tribal and non-tribal) use of these resources."(83) 

c. there is an environmental justice issue here because the long term costs of the project will be borne by the tribes and local resisdents. The Interior Department has emphasized that "Even if the mining company makes substantial financial commitments for restoration of the site, there will more than likely be damages not provided for with financial assurances. The neighbors, particularly the tribes, will receive a relative meager proportion of the short term economic benefit, but by virtue of the location of their lands, will inherit the brunt of the environmental problems and economic bust cycle. It seems unfair that a large and powerful, but temporarily involved, interested party can reap the benefits, but leave the majority of the costs to less powerful interests who cannot reasonably move from the area to escape long term costs."(84) 

d. The Menominee Reservation, located directly downstream from the proposed mine, stands to be negatively impacted. The Tribe has occupied the Wolf River area for 8000 years. The name "Menominee" or "OMAEQNOMENEWAK" means Wild Rice People.(85)  The Menominee Reservation, nearly 235,000 acres, features some of the finest managed forestland within the Great Lakes Basin. It is the Tribe's philosophy that actions which affect its natural resources must be judged according to their potential effect on the seventh generation, i.e., future generations.

e. "That seven generation philosophy is the reason the Wolf River, which is both designated an Outstanding Resource Water ("ORW") under state law and designated as a component of the Wild and Scenic Rivers system from the Langlade-Menominee County line downstream to Keshena still pristine. The Wolf River runs through the Menominee Reservation and is the heart and soul of this reservation and its people. Any action taken which affects the Wolf River would affect the heart and soul of the Menominee Tribe."(86) 

f. The position of the Menominee Tribe, as stated by former tribal chairman, John H. Teller, is that "Crandon Mining Co.'s proposed construction and operation of a hardrock metallic sulfide mine at the headwaters of the Wolf River seriously threatens this magnificent river. Water quality and tremendous ecological diversity is imperiled, including bald eagle, wild rice, lake sturgeon and trout habitat. The Wolf River is the lifeline of the Menominee people, and central to our existence. We will let no harm come to the river."(87) 

4. Exxon and Rio Algom have demonstrated a pattern of disrespect for and a devastation of Native lands and cultures.

a. despite possible negative impacts upon cultural sites of importance to the Mole Lake, Potawatomi and Menominee Tribes, Exxon's consultant, Wesley Andrews, was pressured to write that there would be no harm to cultural sites. Mr. Andrews refused to go along with this because he believed it was a lie. He said that the material he wrote for an environmental impact report to state and federal agencies was "changed in many ways," including the insertion of a statement that the mine would have no adverse physical impacts to traditional cultural properties of the tribes.(88)  In a letter to the tribal chairmen at Mole Lake, Potawatomi and Menoninee, Mr. Andrews wrote that the firm he was working for, under contract to the Crandon Mining Company, had a "disappointing lack of respect for traditional culture and values of the tribes."(89) 

b. Exxon's huge coal mine in Colombia, South America, has earned it a place on Survival International's Top Ten list of the corporate violators of Native rights.(90)  The El Cerrejon mine has brought both environmental and cultural devastation to the Wayuu (Guajiro) Indians, who have lived in the region for over 500 years, and survived the Spanish conquest with a large degree of independence. Wayuu community leader Armando Valbuena Gouriyu testified that former Crandon Mining Company President Jerry Goodrich managed El Cerrejon on a day-to-day basis as Vice President of Operations. "Jerry Goodrich promised us jobs and prosperity and instead worked to destroy our traditional ways and forced us from our land. This must not happen again.  To allow this mine is to disappear from the earth."(91)

c. In Colombia, the construction of a 95-mile rail and road connection between Exxon's El Cerrejon coal mine and the port of Uribia disturbed the cemeteries of the Wayuu people. Exxon's Intercor subsidiary removed the burials, and initially interred them in large structures without regard for the cohesion of families. The Wayuu, many of whom were relocated for the rail corridor, forced Intercor to rebuild the structures.(92) 

d. In Alaska, the Exxon Valdez spilled oil into the waters of the Chugach and Eyak tribes. The Chugach had sold the port of Valdez to the oil companies in 1969 for one dollar, and 
a pledge that the environment would be protected.(93)   As we know now, the spill damaged 
the fishery in a way that hurt white fishermen, and damaged the resource-based cultures of local Native peoples.

e. Serpent River Ojibwa band councilor Keith Lewis testified to the Wisconsin Review Commission about Rio Algom's Elliot Lake uranium mines in Ontario, Canada. He said the Serpent River used to be one of the greatest sturgeon producing rivers in the province, but that the fish has almost been wiped out by radioactive and heavy metal poisons from the mines. In 1976, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment reported that 18 lakes in the Serpent River system had been contaminated by Rio Algom and Denison Mines' uranium mining. Despite several years of clean-up efforts, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources biologist Will Samis says "No one on our staff has indicated that this river system is...fully recovered in all its parts."(94)   Survival International named Rio Algom and its parent company, Rio Tinto Zinc, as one of the 10 worst companies in 1992 in terms of damage done to tribal lands in the Americas.

Wisconsin's Mining Moratorium: It's the Law

The Mining Moratorium Law (Act 171) prohibits the state from issuing a mining permit until the applicant can provide an example of a similar mine in a sulfide orebody that has been operated for at least ten years and closed for at least ten years without pollution from acid mine drainage or heavy metal contamination. But the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is currently interpreting the law to allow two mines to meet this test. This creative interpretation not only serves the mining industry well, but also is a complete reversal of the DNR's former interpretation of the law.(95)

At a February 1997 hearing on then Senate Bill 3, DNR official Stan Druckenmiller opposed SB3 in part because it would require a mining company to produce an example mine that was at least 20 years old. DNR Secretary Meyer restated the same interpretation in an October 1997 letter to then Assembly Environment committee chair, Marc Duff. Even Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which together with Rio Algom's Nicolet Minerals spent more than $1.5 million fighting the law, used similar arguments against the law. Secretary Meyer acknowledged in January of 1999 that the DNR did in fact change its interpretation of the law after it had passed

Passage of the moratorium was due to the efforts of an historic grassroots alliance of environmentalists, Native American nations, sportfishing groups, unionists, students, and others around the state. They opposed the proposed Crandon mine (and a planned Northern Wisconsin mining district) for its threat to fish in the Wolf and Wisconsin rivers, the tourism  economy, and Native American cultures. 

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is now attempting to gut the Mining Moratorium Law by misinterpreting the law in a manner entirely favorable to the mining industry and by refusing to enforce it. As a result, concerned citizens have filed a legal petition for promulgation of rules for the law. The Natural Resources Board will take up the petition for rulemaking for the Moratorium law at one of its regularly scheduled Board meetings in the fall of 1999. You can write or call DNR Secretary Meyer and ask that rules be immediately promulgated for the Mining Moratorium Law and that public hearings be held. Contact:

Sec. George Meyer, P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI  53707, or call ((608) 266-2121. 

If you would like to read the full petition to the Natural Resources Board online, go to: then click on "Issues", then on "Mining."
Environmental Aspects Socio-Economic Aspects Cultural Aspects Sources


Wisconsin Resources Protection Council | MAIN OFFICE: Box 263, Tomahawk, WI 54487 
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