Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

Great Lakes Indigenous Caucus Tour and Conference

By Tina L. Van Zile, Environmental Director

On July 15th and July 16th, I took the environmental summer youth, Chloe Van Zile and Annika Tuchalski, to Michigan to participate in a tour of the proposed Back 40 Mine site that is located along the banks of the Menominee River.

Aquila Resources has been pursuing mining permits to open a large open pit and underground mine approximately 150 to 200 feet from the Menominee River. Dawn Wilber and Oralann Caldwell, members of the Menominee Nation, were our tour guides and they showed us culturally significant areas that are along the Menominee River.

We saw burial mounds, ancient garden beds and dance rings, and, more importantly, this is the location of their Creation Story. If you haven’t ever read about their Creation Story, I highly recommend it.

And now this area is being threatened by the Proposed Back 40 Mine. I felt it was important to take Chloe and Annika because I wanted them to see the type of projects that Tribes face on a regular basis across Indian Country.

After our tour, we traveled to Marinette and attended a “Water Celebration” event on Stephenson Island. This event had various speakers talking about the threats of the proposed Back 40 mine project. Also, the speakers talked about the importance of water among other things. Myself, Chloe and Annika were honored to be asked to participate in the water ceremony that was led by Oralann Caldwell. There were no pictures or videos allowed during the water ceremony, and it was truly a wonderful experience.

After the water ceremony, we participated in a “walk for water,” and we walked 1.5 miles from Stephenson Island across the bridge (which is the state line between Wisconsin and Michigan) into the downtown area.

After the walk, I brought Chloe and Annika home and then headed to Keshena for the official start of the Western Mining Action Council-Great Lakes Indigenous Caucus Conference for four days. The conference was held at the Menominee Nation because we wanted to show our support in their fight against the proposed Back 40 project.

During the week, we worked hard on the strategic plan of the Indigenous Caucus. The Indigenous Caucus consists of Native Nations from United States and Canada, and all are facing some type of mining related threats. Our strategic plan is a way to help individual nations with the protection of their homelands.

During this week-long meeting, I realized how fortunate we are in Mole Lake because we were able to PREVENT the proposed Crandon Mine from ever opening. So many of the other Tribes are not so lucky. A few of the Indigenous representatives at this caucus are facing active uranium mining, and my heart was breaking as they were telling their story because they can’t even drink their water anymore.

This Indigenous Caucus is primarily a network for all of our Tribes to share our knowledge and to help one another. At the end of the day, we must all realize that no matter what nationality we come from, we NEED CLEAN WATER. This is also true for all the animals, plants, trees, etc., whom we have to speak for because they can’t speak for themselves.

During the four-day conference, we made time for a few field trips to Keshena Falls, the Menominee Museum and Smokey Falls. Chantel Alveshire was our host for the four days and she arranged for a traditional meal at Menikahnikan, which is a grass roots group made up of people from the Menominee Nation. Chantel was running around all week to make sure we all were taken care of, and she did this as a volunteer.

So, between the tour, the water celebration and the conference, I was so glad to be a part of it. I feel reinvigorated about the work I do because there are many times when I feel so burnt out. I wish more of our people would take it upon themselves to become more active in this fight against all these mining projects across Turtle Island.

I would like to say Chi-Miigwech to Sayokla Kindness! She is our Indigenous Caucus Coordinator, and works hard to bring us all together. She works on grants to fund our travel for these important meetings. Sayokla has been doing this type of activism work going back in the 1990’s, when she started with the Indigenous Environmental Network Organization.