REGIONAL— The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe has come out in strong support of an effort to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from a proposed copper-nickel mine near …
REGIONAL— The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe has come out in strong support of an effort to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from a proposed copper-nickel mine near Ely.
In a Jan. 31 letter to three Democratic members of Congress, signed by current president Cathy Chavers, the MCT announced its support of H.R. 5598, otherwise known as the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act.
That bill, authored by Minnesota Fourth District Congresswoman Betty McCollum, would expand the existing mining buffer zone around the Boundary Waters by an additional 234,000 acres. The measure, if ultimately signed into law, would preclude only the development of sulfide-based copper-nickel mining on the affected lands. It would not prevent the mining of iron ore, taconite, gravel, or granite.
The bill was the subject of a congressional hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 5, before the House Natural Resources Committee’s Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee, although prospects for the measure ultimately becoming law appear in doubt.
The letter from the Minnesota Chippewa Tribes was presented to Congress in support of the measure. It cites the risks posed by sulfide-based mining upstream of the Boundary Waters. “As former U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell stated, sulfide-ore copper mining has the potential to permanently destroy the pure waters and intact forests in the area of the proposed Twin Metals mine,” wrote Chavers in the letter. “The BWCA watershed is comprised of a vast area of pristine interconnected waterways that have been used by the Chippewa for centuries,” the letter continued. “Low buffering capacity of water and soil and the interconnection of lakes and streams, make the BWCA watershed particularly vulnerable to the impacts of mining.”
The letter notes that mining discharges are known to increase the amount of mercury in fish tissue, which is a toxin “of great concern to our members who depend on wild caught fish for their sustenance,” the letter continued. Three of the six member bands of the MCT, specifically the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, and Grand Portage, have longstanding treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather across virtually all of northeastern Minnesota, including the area proposed for the Twin Metals mine. “All of this is at risk if any mining proposal in the watershed moves forward,” concludes the letter. “It is unacceptable to trade this precious landscape and our way of life to enrich foreign mining companies that will leave a legacy of degradation that will last forever.”
While some of northern Minnesota’s Ojibwe bands, notably Fond du Lac and Grand Portage, have been have more willing to challenge copper-nickel mining projects for some time, other bands have been reluctant to take a more public position. That makes the recent letter a significant development in the political fight over the proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely.
The MCT, which has about 41,000 enrolled members, represents six Ojibwe bands in Minnesota, including the Bois Forte, Leech Lake, White Earth, Fond du Lac, Mille Lacs, and Grand Portage bands, and the letter is the first time the bands have issued a letter backing legal protections that would effectively block the proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely.