Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

Michigan Tribe Seeks to Set Its Own Water Standards

By Andrew Blok, Environmental Health News

“Our community is a fishing community.”

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, on the shores of one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, is petitioning the federal government to hand over control of setting water quality standards.

It would make them the first Tribe in Michigan to receive that right and join 60 Tribes in the United States already granted that ability. Many Tribes argue that an increased role in setting water regulation allows them to tailor the standards to protect plants and wildlife important to them. Tribes across the country who’ve been granted the authority have used it to tackle environmental issues specific to their area, including reducing phosphorus in Florida water; preserving clean water in a Montana lake; forcing upstream users in New Mexico to stop sending waste down the Rio Grande; and halting a controversial mine project in Wisconsin.

Like many Tribes who’ve attempted this before, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community – located in the northern reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on the shore of Lake Superior – is already dealing with some blowback from state representatives who feel that authority will create a confusing patchwork of regulations.

However, the Tribe says the push to regulate the water on their lands is rooted in the goal of shaping regulations to fit their community’s specific needs.

The Sokaogon Chippewa Community Mole Lake Band in northern Wisconsin leveraged their power under the same provision to put the regulatory brakes on the proposed Crandon Mine that threatened the quality of water needed to grow wild rice, a crop similarly tied to the Tribe’s long history in the area.

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