LAKE TOWNSHIP — Members of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin made their presence known this week after holding a water walk and an ancestral memorial program in Lake Township to raise awareness about how a proposed sulfide mine in Menominee County will affect the local environment and the tribe itself.
Menominee tribal leaders held a speaking event and water ceremony Thursday at a boat landing in Lake Township after finishing the water walk Wednesday. The ceremonial water walk began at the tribe’s reservation in Keshena, Wis., moving to Menekaunee Harbor in Marinette and then up to the proposed site of the Aquila Resources open pit sulfide mine on the Menominee River in Lake Township.
The water walk, held to raise awareness about the fact that the proposed mine could harm Menominee ancestral land and the Menominee River, was conducted in two parts. Participants walked from Keshena Falls to Menekaunee Harbor on April 23 and 24, and the walk continued on Wednesday morning after a ceremony at Menekaunee Harbor. The walk was completed upon arrival at the proposed mine site on Wednesday as well.
About 200 people came for the ceremony and speakers on Thursday by the Menominee River in Lake Township, including members of the Menominee tribe, neighboring and supporting tribal leaders, members of the Front 40 Citizens Group and others with a local interest. Featured speakers and guests included Joan Delabreau, Menominee Tribal Chairwoman; Ada Deer, a former assistant secretary of the Interior and head of the United States’ Bureau of Indian Affairs as well as a Menominee tribal elder; David “Nahwahquaw” Grignon, Menominee Tribal Historic Preservation officer; David Overstreet, who studies Menominee archeology and occupation; and Ron Henricksen, spokesperson for the Front 40 Citizens Group.
Guy Reiter, chairman of the Menominee Conservation Commission and organizer of the event, said he was pleased with the turnout for the water walk, which involved 80 people total in relay in April and on Wednesday, and the awareness it had brought to the mine opposition groups.
“Our culture and our ancestors have been here since time immortal,” he said. “This is the birthplace of our tribe. Those conical mounds that are just 50 yards away from where we are is evidence that we’ve been here for thousands of years. To us, it’s what Bethlehem is to Christians.”
The beliefs and history of the Menominee tribe mark the mouth of the Menominee River as the birthplace of their people. Many at the riverside gathering on Thursday were concerned about the effect an open pit mine could have on the river’s water and wildlife as well as the potential destruction of native mounds, raised agricultural fields and dance circles in the area.
Reiter said the Menominee tribe was “not so much opposing the mine as we are speaking up for our ancestors,” something Overstreet echoed in his presentation to the crowd.
“There’s only one other place that I’ve seen a landscape like this in the 50-plus years that I’ve been kicking around the Great Lakes doing archeology: There is this landscape, and there is the Menominee reservation, both of which are a testament to hundreds and hundreds of years of sustainable organic agriculture and a life way that allows the generations to persist, generation after generation with a well-developed landscape,” Overstreet said, referring to the native sites located around and in the proposed mine site.
Henricksen, member of the Front 40 Citizens Group since Aquila Resources began testing the area’s soil in 2003, spoke about the group’s drive to spread their message about the dangers of sulfide mining.
“Wisconsin, Michigan, Chicago, you name it,” he said. “We were there ... we are worried about the ground and surface water, the fish, the animals, plant life, sacred burials, garden beds, acid mine drainage from a potential mine, air pollution. We all have to be able to breathe, too, besides having to drink clean water, and the wind blows in all four directions, so it doesn’t just affect the people in this immediate area.”
“We’re now about to engage in another big struggle,” said Deer, referring to prior environmental and tribal protests over the failed mine in Crandon, Wis., and the current protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline near Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. “And, based on our history, we will win.”
Aquila Resources did not make a formal appearance at the riverside gathering.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is currently holding a 64-day consolidated public comment period, from Sept. 1 through Nov. 3, as well as a public hearing on Oct. 6 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Stephenson High School gymnasium, W526 Division St., Stephenson, on the mine project.