First Summit of the Federation of
Uniting in Opposition to Mining
From left to right: Patty Loew, Rahul Dubey, Robin Trnso, Charlotte
Hockings and Renee Greenlove
Superior Band of the Ojibwe talked about a looming threat to the Bad River Ojibwe and their culture.
Last year, when Loew was on a sabbatical from her teaching duties at UW-Madison, she worked with three Ojibwe youth to produce a
documentary about a proposed taconite mine in the Penokee Hills near the source of the Bad River, which runs through the Bad River
reservation into Lake Superior.
“The documentary explores the scientific and traditional ecological knowledge about the Penokee Hills and the mining issue as it relates
to our wild rice,” Loew said. “All of the video was shot by a 14-year-old boy. All of the script and on-camera narration was done by a 14-
year-old tribal girl. And all of that beautiful original music that you heard was composed by a 14-year-old tribal kid during a summer. They
told me what they wanted and picked out the bytes and the order of everything and I just did what they told me to do and pushed the
buttons. That was my role. I was the button pusher.”
Loew and other tribal members are concerned that the taconite mine will destroy the wild rice and their way of life.
“The Penokee Hills are rocks stacked on top of each other,” Loew explained. “They all tip northward toward Lake Superior. It’s a vast
wetland area and everything drains northward and empties into Lake Superior after going through the Bad River and Kakagon Sloughs.
The rock that would be blasted in order to extract the taconite, which is a very low-grade iron ore, there are a couple of layers that have
these sulfites in them, pyrite for example. Pyrite is a sulfite and once it hits air or water, it is going to create sulfuric acid. Those sulfates
enter into the rivers that all converge into the Bad River and flow through our rice fields. We know that rice is extremely susceptible to
sulfates. The state of Minnesota is considering raising its sulfate levels right now, toughening its regulations because it has lost so
much wild rice downstream from these taconite mines. The St. Louis River is somewhere between 50-75 miles of what once was a thick
wild rice producing river. It has no more rice in it. We wonder if that is going to be our fate.”
While some people in Southern Wisconsin might look at the wild rice as a “bunch of weeds,” to the Ojibwe, the wild rice is central to
their religion and understanding of the world. It is a relation that must be protected.
“We have always acted in the best interest of that rice because we know it feeds the fish,” Loew said. “It feeds the ducks, the geese and
the small animals who in turn feed us. It replenishes the water with oxygen and it is an excellent filter plant. It filters the water and
improves the water quality. This is a relative. How do you explain to someone that in these nature-based religions that reflect our
communities,t we’re praying for that wild rice. That’s the basis of our religion. That’s what we’re praying for, the health of that rice and
that place. You won’t see any church spires. You won’t see any stain glass. But that resource, that relative is as holy and sacred to us
as anything in anyone else’s religion. And we have a right. That’s our right as human beings. It’s a civil right. It’s a human right. It’s a
moral right to be able to exist and nurture this wonderful resource, which is the basis of our beliefs.”
In spite of the Walker Administration’s policies that have made it easier for mining interests to exploit Wisconsin’s natural resources,
Loew has hope for the future. After all, this is not the first time that Indian Country has faced large economic interests that threaten their
way of life.
“I’m really optimistic about this. I’m not sure there isn’t a tribe in this state that hasn’t faced an environmental threat at some point in its
history,” Loew said. “Even the Oneida had land trust issues with the town of Hobart. And the Mohicans have experienced some of that.
Every singe tribe in this state faces environmental threats. I’m just so encouraged that the Ho-Chunk have reached out to my tribe and
some of the other tribes in the state because we are beginning to recognize that even though the issues may be slightly different in our
communities, at the most fundamental level, it’s still environmental racism. We are being targeted for the industries that people in other
parts of the state would never put up with. But somehow the powers that be think that our communities are suitable for this. Is that
because Brown people’s communities are less important than non-Brown communities? It makes you wonder.”
The next Summit of the Federation of United Tribes to fight the adverse effects of mining in Indian Country will be a road show.
“We will have a delegation of traveling cars and buses fueled by vegetable oil,and other renewable fuels,” said Dawn Shegonee, one of
the event’s organizers. “We will stop at several of the 130 mining sites that are destroying our air , water, land, and the fish we eat. We
will learn how the Treaties of Agreement can protect us all...bringing us back to the true meaning of our Constitution and the Declaration
of Independence, restoring our Democracy! We will have four main stops, beginning at Black River Falls in Jackson County and ending
at Custer WI for the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair June 20-22,2014.”
The fight for clean air and water has just begun.
For more information, call Dawn Shegonee at 608-469-8572 or visit the federation’s website at www.federatiomofunitedtribes.org.
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 2 of 2
Ever since Governor Scott Walker took office in 2011
with his pro-business policies that provide tax
incentives and easing of environmental and other
governmental regulations, mining has once again taken
off in Northern Wisconsin, which has many mineral
deposits underneath the pristine beauty of its virgin
forests and spectacular natural vistas. And whenever
mining becomes an issue in Northern Wisconsin, it is a
sure bet that it will have a negative impact on Native
While much attention has been given to the impact of frac
sand mining and its impact on members of the Ho-Chunk
Nation, there is another mining threat. At the First Summit
of the Federation of United Tribes held at the Ho-Chunk
Casino Hotel and Convention Center in Baraboo. Patty
Loew, a journalist and member of the Bad River Lake