Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

Remembering the Crandon Mine Victory

By Richard D. Ackley, Jr.
On Monday, a small group of Tribal Members and employees gathered at the Environmental Building’s conference room to remember the end of the former Crandon Mine and share in a feast.

Tina VanZile, Environmental Director, welcomed attendees and reinforced the idea stating, “We cannot forget what happened here and how important it is for us to remember what we had to do to the stop the mine.”

The annual gathering serves as a chance to revitalize and bring back into light the power, motivation and strength of a people, and the alliances supporting a culture tied directly to Mother Earth. Tina shared updated information about the former 5,000-acre mine site, which lies a short distance east of the Tribe’s boundary line.

Tribal Member Ken VanZile was able to share his knowledge regarding the chronological events leading up to the now closed Crandon Mine. More than 30 organizations came to the aid of Mole Lake as allies to stop the mine. The mining controversy years had a tremendous psychological impact on the people of Mole Lake and surrounding communities, and many positive outcomes came about unexpectedly as a result of purchasing the mine.

The Madison Community Foundation, having been designated as the trustee, was able to place $8 million into a trust fund on behalf of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community, which was a gift from the former mine owners BHP Billiton. The 27-year battle against metallic sulfide mining in Forest County officially came to a definitive end October 28, 2003.

The controversial mine began in 1975 at land near the headwaters near the Wolf River, and unwillingly became the center of political, economic, environmental and cultural turmoil in Wisconsin. This quiet and unassuming pristine area, predominately a wetland teeming with wildlife, eventually played a major role in local history, making an impact on the demise of the Wisconsin mining industry and reaching across the globe.

The Tribe was at the helm of defeating the mine, bringing an opposition force of sportsmen, environmentalists and other Wisconsin Tribes together, with more than 30 strategic alliances, stringent use of policy, unrestricted outreach and education efforts. In 2006, three years after Mole Lake made its final mortgage payment to the mining company, the mining company then donated that money back to the Tribe, resulting in the trust.

Both the Potawatomi and the Sokaogon Chippewa have experienced a long history of poverty, and held on to their language and culture beliefs against the onslaught of anti-mine protests, negative assumptions and pro-mining state legislators. The Tribes charged that toxic run-off (sludge) had the potential to cause widespread harm to wildlife, aquatic species and especially Rice Lake. Mining would have proved to be an extremely costly dilemma to taxpayers, should clean-up be required. The two Tribes, surrounded by the Nicolet National Forest, would not allow the area’s pristine beauty and purity of the water to become tainted with toxic mining byproducts. The history and culture of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community would have been extinguished, should the local lakes, rivers, streams and underground aquifers eventually succumb to pollution.

These two small communities in rural northern Wisconsin, having modest financial resources, were able to hang on over the years, and refused to give up. Ultimately, the world’s largest multi-national mining conglomerate met defeat. Today, the 5,000- acre mine site and its estimated 16.5 billion ore body are owned by both the Forest County Potawatomi Community and the Sokaogon Chippewa Community.

The food that grows on the water (manoomin) in Rice Lake is one of the main reasons the defeat of the mine was so significant. This place remains ground zero for history to be remembered.