Background For the Train Blockade


Trains carrying sulfuric acid from the Southwest to Michigan have been blockaded in the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation in northern Wisconsin since July 22. The acid shipments by the Wisconsin Central Railroad are destined for the White Pine copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a huge old mine which has been recently reopened in order to use the sulfuric acid to "leach out" the remaining ore. Sulfuric acid is a controversial by-product of copper sulfide mining,which has been opposed by a Wisconsin alliance of Native Americans, environmentalists, and sportfishers,but this is a different situation of the Copper Range company actually introducing sulfuric acid into the environment to carry out acid solution mining. 

The tribal government at Bad River is opposed to the train shipment, but tribal legal efforts against the acid solution mining have not been backed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Without a hearing or EIS, the EPA granted a permit for the project, but now promises a stepped-up "environmental assessment." The Bad River tribal government has managed to stop the train from passing through wetland-rich reservation lands until old defective train bridges are repaired. A group called Anishinabe Ogitchida (Protectors of the People) have been on the tracks to draw public attention to the shipment and White Pine acid solution mining. State Attorney General James Doyle has asked the federal government to inspect the tracks and to draft an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on White Pine, which is five miles from Lake Superior, but pro-mining Governor Tommy Thompson contends that the blockade violates interstate commerce. Police have backed off making arrests. As of August 16, the Ogitchida have let four trains carrying non-hazardous cargo pass through the blockade, after being boarded and inspected. 

White Pine is owned by Copper Range, which in turn is owned by INMET, based in Toronto. Walter Bresette, Red Cliff Ojibwe spokesperson for the Midwest Treaty Network Northwest Wisconsin office, is calling on Canadian supporters to picket INMET offices in Toronto in support of the Wisconsin and Michigan Ojibwe. This request holds no matter the outcome of the current blockade. Another mine is proposed at the Mole Lake Chippewa Reservation by Exxon and Rio Algom (another Toronto-based company). Exxon lobbyist Peter Theo says the blockade "heightens tensions" over what will happen if his company is granted a mining permit. 

Today, at dawn, a sacred fire was lit next to the railroad tracks on the Bad River Chippewa Reservation, within the ceded territory of the Lake Superior Chippewa. 

The sacred fire will burn for four days during which prayers, songs and offerings will be made in traditional ceremonies. We, the Anishinabe Ogitchida, will hunt and gather food during these four days. These next few days will help determine our actions for the next few weeks, months and perhaps years. We ask that these ceremonies be undisturbed by train traffic or those who would seek to disrupt these spiritual activities. 

Following the four days of spiritual ceremony, we will leave if the following conditions are met: 

An immediate cessation of acid mining at White Pine, Michigan until:

The Treaty Rights of the Lake Superior Chippewa are considered;

There is a full Environmental Impact Statement of the Acid Mine Project

A reclamation plan is developed for the existing tailings area prior to acid solution mining.

A reclamation plan for the brine aquifer seepage at White Pine prior to consideration of acid mining.

The immediate cessation of all sulfuric acid transport in ceded territory until:

A full EIS on acid mining [is performed];

An inspection, report, and repair of rail lines in our territory;

All communities on the rail corridor have trained staff, adequate equipment and emergency response teams to handle an acid spill.

If these conditions are met, this peaceful and spiritual gathering will end at dawn on Friday. For the next four days our community will be safe from this unsafe transport of hazardous materials. 

We call on others to seek similar spiritual guidance, and to take similar action. 
We call on all traditional and spiritual people to join us in these deliberations. 
We call on other Anishinabe Ogitchida to also join us; we will protect our right and our duty to these ceremonies.