Hootenanny gathers in the woods for a good cause 10/12/2011

by Kate Carson and Casey Martinson

More than 50 people from around the state gathered last weekend for the Hootenanny for the Hills Campout in Copper Falls State Park, an event sponsored [at UW-Stevens Point] by Students for a Democratic Society and organized by the Penokee Hills Education Project. 

The goal of the campout was to raise awareness of the environmental damages that would result from a proposed open-pit taconite mine in Ashland and Iron counties, the proposed changes to state environmental and mining laws and the impacts this mine would have on the people of the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation. Activities consisted of guided waterfall hikes, a tour of the proposed mine site, and speakers. Mike Wiggins Jr., chairman of the Bad River Band of Ojibwe Indians. 

The company proposing the mine is Gogebic Taconite (GTAC), a Wisconsin subsidiary of Cline Resources and Development Group, known for its mountaintop coal removal practices in the Appalachian Mountains. They have purchased mineral rights on 22,000 acres in Ashland and Iron counties. 

The company claims that they will provide jobs in this economically depressed area for 30 years without degrading the environment or water quality. However, before they move on this project, they are demanding major adjustments to our state’s mining and environmental regulations, currently among the strongest in the country. 

Frank Koehn, a native rights and environmental activist and guest speaker at the event, claimed that the only reason GTAC is demanding changes to our laws is because they do not have the technology to operate this mine without severely degrading the environmental and water quality. He also focused on the impacts the mine would have on the people in the community surrounding the mine, claiming that explosions from the mining site could register as a 1.8 or higher on the Richter scale, disturbing not only the area’s human residents, but also livestock and wildlife. Koehn stated that if this mine were to be developed, thousands of acres of forest would be clear-cut, wild rice beds would be destroyed, fisheries damaged and the groundwater polluted.

One of his major concerns surrounding the mine was the impact that it would have on the Ojibwe people. Mike Wiggins Jr., chairman of the Bad River Tribal Council, detailed some of the major impacts the proposed mine would have on his people. The Bad River Band Ojibwe reservation covers over 100 miles of streams and rivers on the Bad River watershed. According to Wiggins, the mine threatens the wild rice, fish and animals that his people depend upon for subsistence and could destroy their culture. He explaned that the Band’s cultural identity and way of life is highly dependent upon maintaining the health and integrity of the watershed.

 Juan Gonzalez, a Pointer who attended the event, said, “After having been up there, seeing the place, and learning about the actual tolls that the mine would take on the environment and the Ojibwe people, I’m convinced that the mine must be stopped.