More than a hundred protesters gathered on the Capitol steps Saturday to voice their opposition to a proposed mine in northwest Wisconsin’s Penokee Hills, as well as a recently introduced bill they said would loosen Wisconsin’s environmental standards regarding the creation and maintenance of mines.
The musical protest group Forward! Marching Band, and a group of older female vocalists known as the “Raging Grannies,” played between the event’s speakers, lending to the grass-roots atmosphere. About mid-way through, the event incorporated a “solidarity sing-a-long” featuring anti-mining songs.
Included at the rally were delegations from some of Wisconsin’s Native American tribes, most conspicuous being a group from the Bad River Band of the Ojibwe, the Native group whose reservation lands lie nearby to the proposed site of the mine.
The protesters focused on the potential for large-scale pollution of the area’s water sources. The issue of water is particularly important for the Band, as one of their most culturally significant food sources, wild rice, is entirely dependent on the region’s surface water. The tribal representatives said they worry the soil and minerals displaced from the mine would contaminate and destroy the natural nurseries harboring the rice.
“Our water will be destroyed,” said Cherie Pero, a member of the Band. “There is no plan B for water.”
Later, Esie Leoso-Corbine, another representative of the Band, declared “genocide is alive and well in Wisconsin.”
“If one shovel goes into that earth, it will destroy my people,” she said.
Frank Koehn, a representative of Save the Water’s Edge, described his own family’s long-standing roots in Wisconsin, focusing on the benefits provided to his own family by treaty rights granted to the Natives of the area, rights the protesters said are being violated by the mining proposal.
“We found this beautiful place to live, we benefitted from the treaties, and now it’s our turn to fight for these treaties,” Koehn said. “If Gov. Walker and the other Republicans want to deny these treaties, than they’re denying our heritage, they’re denying our people, and they’re denying Wisconsin.”
Despite the opposition, Republicans maintain they will uphold Wisconsin’s environmental standards while working with concerned individuals and groups to pass the best possible legislation.