Voigt Decision Trumps Mining in Northern Wisconsin

December 19, 2011 by Barbara With

photo © Larry Kinnett

photo © Larry Kinnett

On December 14, I attended a 10-hour pubic hearing in Milwaukee on the proposed mines in Northern Wisconsin. To be clear, my home of Madeline Island would be tremendously and adversely affected both environmentally and economically by a 4-mile or more open pit iron ore mine in the Penokee Mountains. I have great difficulty understanding how a proposed iron ore mine that would destroy the tourism, water quality and environmental health of our area can be touted as viable.

As my senator, Bob Jauch, has often told me mining is not illegal in the state of Wisconsin. However, what could be considered unethical, immoral and downright dangerous is a mining company, GTAC, a division of Cline Mines, being allowed to write the actual legislation that would strip protection from the land and citizens alike, designed specifically and singularly for the benefit of Cline and their cronies. Cline Mines did after all fund the current governor as well as the legislators who are pushing to remove protections in order to do business here.

However, aside from the injustice of the misleading “jobs vs. environment” debate, totally overlooked in the discussion are the facts of the treaties that were garnered in the 1800s with the Chippewa in the region. Beginning in 1836, millions of acres were ceded to the United States by the Chippewa in exchange to retain the rights to hunt, fish and gather on those ceded lands outside of reservation borders. This exchange was done in good faith, with the understanding that ceding such a large exchange of real estate would guarantee the safety and well-being of generations that were to come.

From the beginning, these agreements were ignored. By the early 1900s, the region was rife with scandal and active suppression of the treaty rights through police corruption and unscrupulous court rulings. It wasn’t until 1983 when the Voigt Decision took affect that the Native Americans regained the power that the treaties had originally intended.

The Voigt Decision spurred the famed Walleye Wars, as tribes exercised their rights to spearfish walleye in lakes not located on tribal lands. Unrest with local white sportsman came to a head as police in riot gear were called to boat landings to intervene. These conflicts were due to a lack of understanding of the original treaty rights. While it is true the Ojibwe ceded the land to the US, they did not give away their rights to hunt and fish on the land. Eventually, tensions between the Ojibwe and local community cooled as biological data from the DNR showed only 3% of the walleye population being taken through spear fishing. Later, sportsmen who originally opposed the treaty rights joined forces with the tribes to oppose the Crandon Mine, which they successfully prevented from operating.

Since the Voigt Decision, the Ojibwe have worked closely with the DNR to co-manage the resources of the lands that affect their livelihood. “We have a continual relationship with the Voigt Intertribal Task Force on all kinds of different issues,” said Ann Coakley, director of the Waste and Materials Management Bureau with the Wisconsin DNR. “We definitely value and respect our state-to-state or state-to-tribe relationships.” Improved fisheries, lake rehabilitation, mercury tracking, fish stocking and assessment of inland lakes have helped improve the lives of all residents of northern Wisconsin.

At the hearing David Ward, economic pimp for Cline Mines, extol the 100-year financial gains allegedly possible from mining, even though he admitted that he was not in the business of doing cost-benefit analysis. His reasoning was comparable to me bragging that I can pull in $100,000 a year without mentioning that it costs me $200,000 in expenses to do it. So even if his unbelievable claim of billions of dollars of revenue was true, they cannot be substantiated without putting a price on the lives of the Chippewa living on Bad River.

In Northern Minnesota the mines have destroyed 100 miles of the St. Louis River, creating a dead zone where wild rice will never grow again. This will be the fate of the Bad River as well. How do you assess the value of the tribe? Wouldn’t human life fall under the “priceless” category?

How can we trust GTAC when all they have done is lie at every turn of this process? How can we trust the politicians who have been paid off by Cline to immorally push through legislation on their behalf? And how can we trust our local officials who are railroading the area into promoting a mine using fast tracking and back room deals?

We can’t. Bad River has told the governor, the mines will destroy them. The EPA has granted them the power to regulate water quality upriver and on ceded lands that affect their well-being. The Voigt Decision clarifies their rights.

There will be no mines in the Penokees. End of story.

Reference and credit to Amorin Mello:


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