Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

Youth Gain Knowledge on Defeating the Crandon Mine

By: Richard D. Ackley, Jr.
The 27-year battle against metallic sulfide mining in Forest County officially came to a definitive end on October 28, 2003. The controversial mine began in 1975 on land near the headwaters of the Wolf River, and unintentionally 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, and had an impact on the demise of the Wisconsin mining industry, that had global reach.
The Mole Lake Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa led the defeat of the mine, bringing an opposition force of sportsman, environmentalists, other Wisconsin Tribes, more than 30 strategic alliances, the stringent use of policy, unrestricted outreach, and education efforts.
Tina VanZile, the Tribe’s Environmental Director, shared her passion about protecting the waterways that exist in and around the Mole Lake area with more than 20 youth last week. Tina shared her first-hand experience with members of the Tribe’s Summer Youth Program about how protecting area rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers was central to defeating a multi-national mining industry from opening near the reservation. “I began to really learn what could happen to us here should the proposed Crandon mine open,” Tina said and reminded youth that our Elders made sure that we had a home here. This developed into her passion to take on the work of the Environmental Department for the Tribe. Tina explained why maintaining water quality is critical to our survival, and how a toxic sulfide mine would have jeopardized our water quality and way of life. “We do wild rice management and actually take part in removing invasive species plants such as lily pads from our wild rice beds to help avoid degradation of the rice plant,” Tina said. She explained that controlling invasive species is an ongoing endeavor, as invasive plants are toxic to indigenous plant life. “Wild rice doesn’t like deep water so we must do everything we can to regulate the water level in the lake to help the wild rice thrive,” and shared that she is a volunteer with the River Alliance of Wisconsin.

The group then proceeded to the Mole Lake historical marker on Hwy 55. They learned more about Tribal history, and each participant spread a bit of tobacco on to the ground in the traditional Ojibwe way. This helped the youth to understand the importance of honoring the Warriors who have passed on fighting to save the wild rice bed in 1806. The group then visited Swamp Creek, north of the marker along Hwy 55, and learned about why Swamp Creek is a main tributary to Rice Lake, and how the water which supports the health of the rice comes from areas both north and east of the reservation. The final stop of the education program brought the group to the mining site located northeast of the reservation on Sand Lake Road. Participants gained information about the actual mapping and approximate size of the mine to help them to better understand the magnitude of what the negative impacts mining would have had on the Mole Lake community and our waterways.

Chi Miigwech Tina for your 25 years of dedicated service!