Tribe from Michigan's Upper Peninsula say mines violate rights

May 7, 2012

A Central Upper Peninsula Indian tribe is asking the United Nations to help curb sulfide mining in the Upper Great Lakes.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) recently sent the United Nations a document outlining how governments are locating and planning mines on Indian land without getting input from tribes.

Tribal officials say that infringes on their treaty rights. 

KBIC member and document co-author Jessica Koski said the tribe needs to have a seat at the table.

“This is our traditional territory.  This is where we hunt, we fish, we gather, and those are rights that are maintained in treaties,” said Koski.

Koski said the mines create the equivalent of battery acid, which drains into nearby watersheds.

“That is a huge problem. There is no example in the entire world of a sulfide mine that hasn’t polluted water resources. And this is an issue that would last for generations and centuries in the Great Lakes region,” said Koski.

Mining company Kennecott Minerals said its design contains safety components that will keep Lake Superior from being polluted.

Supporters of the mine say the area badly needs the jobs.

But Koski said the mine currently being built in Marquette County is slated to last only five years, and the U.P. needs economic opportunities that are long-term.

“And that could be tourism, recreation, agriculture—local sustainable economies where we can thrive into the future and not have this ‘boom and bust,’ which is a very well-known phenomenon with the mining industry, which is why the U.P. is so desperate for another gasp of another mining boom,” said Koski.

Koski also said a sacred site near the nickel and copper mine has been fenced off and degraded. Mining company Kennecott Minerals says the tribe still has access to Eagle Rock.

Koski said their U.N. document aims to educate the public about state and federal governments approving mines on Native land without consulting tribes.

It comes on the heels of the U.N.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

The U.S. approved the multi-nation “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People” two years ago.  But a U.N. human rights official who visited the U.S. last week said more needs to be done to heal historic wounds, including a return of Native American lands to tribes.