Wisconsin tribal leader warns lawmakers on mining plans

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By Jason Smathers
Madison, Wisconsin (AP) April 2011

A Chippewa tribal leader warned state lawmakers about the dangers posed to the environment by a proposed mine in northern Wisconsin.

Mike Wiggins Jr., the chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, said during the annual State of the Tribes address that a push to mine for iron ore in northern Wisconsin could have drastic effects on ground water and other aspects of the environment.

“The tribes are compelled through a unified value system ... to see beyond ringing endorsements and ultimately well beyond industrialization. Especially industrialization with unquantified and undetermined environmental risks.”

Gogebic Taconite wants to spend more than $1 billion to develop an open-pit iron ore mine. It has purchased an option to lease the mineral rights on 22,000 acres in Ashland and Iron counties. A NorthStar Economics study commissioned by Gogebic Taconite claims the mine would create thousands of jobs, including many long-term jobs.

The Bad River Band reservation is located on more than 125,000 acres of land in Iron and Ashland Counties, just north of the proposed mine.

Wiggins said job creation must be balanced with environmental preservation to save state treasures for future generations. He urged lawmakers to keep the lines of communication open to ensure cooperation between tribal and state government on economic development.

“The tribes are hopeful that we can find a balance between bringing an end to this recession while still exemplifying the environmental stewardship that is intertwined in our history – from Chief Buffalo and our ancestors who signed our treaties to John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Gaylord Nelson and Sigurd Olsen.”

Wiggins also thanked the Legislature for resolving past issues, citing a bill passed last year that allows the state Superintendent to ban American Indian mascots at state schools. He also said the Legislature has taken tribal input on a measure that would require all voters to show photo ID at the polls. Wiggins said he believed the final bill would allow tribal ID to be used at the polls as well.

The speech was the seventh State of the Tribes address, which updates the Legislature on the status of Wisconsin’s 11 tribal reservations.