EagleHerald/Chelsea Ewaldt
David Grighon, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Menominee Tribe, tells the creation story of his tribe during the Front 40 environmental group’s first grassroots opposition meeting held Monday night at UW-Marinette.
EagleHerald/Chelsea Ewaldt
David Grighon, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Menominee Tribe, tells the creation story of his tribe during the Front 40 environmental group’s first grassroots opposition meeting held Monday night at UW-Marinette.
MARINETTE — Several speakers addressed a crowd of more than 50 people on Monday night during a grassroots opposition forum to Aquila Resources’ Back Forty proposed metallic sulfide mine project.

The first speaker of the “Save the Menominee River speaking tour” was David Overstreet, adjunct professor at the College of Menominee Nation in Keshena, Wis. He said the Back Forty mine site lies within the footprints the Menominee Indian Tribe has claimed.

“By my count, using the State of Michigan’s records, there are at least 21 identified archeological sites that lie within the footprint of that mine site,” he said.

David Grighon, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer with the Menominee Tribe, said the Menominee people are against this mine.

“Because we believe this land is sacred to us,” he said.

Grighon said the Menominee people are connected to those mounds, burial sites and raised garden fields that Overstreet spoke about.

“Our ancestors are buried in those mounds. Our people believe that this earth itself and the Creator gave to us this land. This is where our language comes from, this area here, the mouth of the Menominee River,” he said. “The Menominee River is very much against this mine because we believe this land is sacred to us.”

Grighon said this situation is different than the Crandon, Wis., mine.

He said the Menominee people are not able to be a partner at the table because the federal agencies gave their responsibility to the State of Michigan, leaving them out of the picture and in violation of their treaty rights.

The Menominee Tribe has asked the Advisory Council of Historic Preservation if anything can be done.

“But we will continue to fight this battle against the mine. The Menominee people have been here for thousands of years... created at the mouth of the Menominee River,” said Grighon. “I believe the Advisory Council will take a look at this. Hopefully in the future they will make a decision that we can come to the table and be in compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act.”

In closing, Grighon said “our burials are going to be destroyed by this mine.”

Al Gedicks, Department of Sociology at UW-LaCrosse, said the relevant factor in evaluating the Back Forty Mine is not the metal, but the waste material that is composed of sulfide minerals that has potential to create pollution and drainage.

“Aquila is going to export all the metal out of the community, along with profits from the mine. This community is going to be left with massive quantities of toxic waste that will pose a permanent pollution problem for the Menominee River as well as for the groundwater,” he said.

Gedicks said the Flambeau Mine was considerably smaller (220 feet deep) than the proposed Back Forty would be (750 feet deep), 32 acres versus 83 acres, operated four years (1993 to 1997), produced a small amount of ore and processed offsite. Back Forty plans to process onsite.

“Which means there is going to be mountains and mountains of tailings, waste materials that contain sulfide minerals that will oxidize under air and water and become acidic and release heavy metals in the environment. This is not some radical environmental nightmare. This is the reality of sulfide mining,” said Gedicks. “Wherever you have sulfide mining, you have acid drainage and release of toxic metals into the environment. That is a universal condition of sulfide mining.”

In addition, he said, cyanide is being proposed in the Back Forty Project, which is used for onsite processing. That cyanide will be part of the waste material and a permanent source of a toxic waste leftover from mining, Gedicks said.

Other speakers were:

¦ Guy Reiter, Menominee Conservation Commission and Tribal Member, who talked about the recent walk Tribal members partook in and how important and spiritual the water and Mother Earth is.

¦ Denny Caneff, executive director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin, who explained what a mining accident would do to fish population, especially the sturgeon and smallmouth bass.

“If there is ever an issue with the mine, if they get the permit to operate, I think it could spell disaster for the project (Menominee River Hydro Dam),” he said.

¦ Keith West, UW-Marinette, who talked about the Shakey Lakes Stream monitoring. Bugs from the seven streams around the potential mine site have been monitored since 2006. He said it would be a bad precedent to say these streams are not important. Some of them are very close to the mine site and flow into the Menominee River.

“A lot of these streams are important for recharging these wetlands,” he said. “I think this is a bad precedent to set, to allow the disruption of these flows. What basically saying is these streams are not important. And they are important.”

¦ The Rev. Jon Magnuson of the Cedar Tree Institute, Marquette, who was the last speaker of the evening.

In comparing the meeting to Aquila Resources almost five-hour meeting two weeks ago, where loads of information was given, Magnuson commented the faith community says more information is not necessarily better.

“You are never going to change someone’s mind who is being paid to not change their mind,” he said.