Photo - Stephan Hoglund
Boozhoo Anishinaabedoog miinawaa Indinawemaaganag
My name is Robert DesJarlait
I am of the Bear Clan
I am from the Red Lake Anishinaabe Nation
I am a cofounder of Protect Our Manoomin. Protect Our Manoomin is a grassroots Anishinaabe organization whose main mission is to educate and inform Maamawi-Anishinaabeg, the common people, of the great harm that sulfide mining presents to manoomin - commonly called natural wild rice. To Anishinaabe people, manoomin is a sacred plant that is a living being.
It is manoomin that brought my people here. Long ago, when we lived on the shores of the Great Salt Waters to the east, the Creator gave us a prophecy. We were told to migrate westward and when we came to where the food grew on water that would be the land where we would build our homes. Nenabozho, our Great Uncle, was the first one to find the food that grew on water. When Nenabozho asked the plants what they called themselves, the plants replied: “We are called Manoomin – the Good Berry.”
Manoomin is an integral part of Anishinaabe culture. It is a cultural, ceremonial, sustenance, economic, and spiritual resource.
Manoomin is also an environmental resource. Healthy stands of manoomin are the barometer of a healthy ecosystem. But sulfates, which are released through the sulfide mining process, enter into rivers and lakes. The sulfates drift into the sediment where they convert into hydrogen sulfide that enters the root system of manoomin. Concentrations of sulfates that are over 10 parts per million of sulfate impairs the growth of manoomin resulting in withered leaves and smaller seeds; high concentrations of sulfates suffocate and kill manoomin. Macroinvertebrates, vegetation, flora, fish, waterfowl, and wildlife are impacted. Additionally, sulfate-reducing bacteria transforms into methyl mercury that leads to mercury fish contamination. Minnesota state law limits sulfate to 10 parts per million. The extractive copper resource colonies proposed for northern and central Minnesota will exceed the limits of the law.
There is over 48,000 acreage of manoomin within the ceded lands of the 1854 and 1855 treaties. The combined total of manoomin on off-reservation treaty lands account for over three-quarters of the estimated total of 64,000 acreage of manoomin in Minnesota. In the Hoyt Lakes area, where Polymet proposes to build its mine, there are over 1800 acres of manoomin that will be exposed Polymet’s sulfate discharge.
We know about the manoomin stands that have been impacted by sulfates released by taconite mines. We know about the Wild Rice Dead Zone on the St. Louis River – a 140 mile stretch where once abundant manoomin is now absent. And we know about babies being born with mercury, high rates of cancer among miners, and asbestos laden dust swirling in the wind.
And yet, despite what we do know, many of our legislators, in collusion with sulfide mining corporations, seek to undermine our existing environmental laws that protect us and protect our manoomin. These legislative efforts to weaken standards to favor extractive copper resource corporations place our environment at risk for the benefit of economic gain. However, this economic gain won’t be for Minnesota. Polymet, a Canadian mining company, will gain; Glencore, a Swiss conglomerate will gain; and China, to where the copper will be shipped, will gain.
What we will gain are killing fields of sulfates that will destroy thousands of acres of manoomin and leave us with an ecosystem with poisoned water and devoid of beauty and life.
Our elders teach us about the Four Orders of Life. Aki – Mother Earth – is the first order, followed by plants, animals and, lastly, human beings. The Earth, plants, and animals can exist without human beings. But, human beings cannot exist without the Earth, plants, and animals. And therein is the teaching. As human beings – Native and non-Native – we have a duty and responsibility to take care of the other Three Orders of Life. Without them, we cannot exist. It is for this reason we must stand strong as one voice and oppose sulfide mining.
There is story I would like to tell today. This is the story about Original Man and Ma’iingan – the wolf. Long ago, when Original Man walked the earth, he noticed that all the animals came in pairs – one male and the other female. He didn’t understand why the animals had companions, yet he walked alone.
One day, he asked the Creator, Gichi-Manidoo, why he was alone.
And the Creator said: “I am going to send you a companion. Together you will wander on the Earth on the same path.”
The Creator sent Ma’iingan – the wolf – to walk with Original Man. Together, they traveled over the Earth and gave names to the plants and trees. And after many years, they returned to where their journey began.
Then the Creator said: “You will now walk separate paths, but what happens to one will happen to the other.”
In their separate lives, Original Man and Ma’iingan were alike. They had families, a tribe, and clans. And they shared the same fate. They were hunted for their hair, and their land was taken from them.
We know that today, legislators in Wisconsin and Minnesota are passing laws to hunt wolves. Last week there was a picture on Facebook of two men kneeling behind a pickup truck. Twenty-five, thirty bodies of wolves spilled out the back end of the pickup. When I saw that photograph, I thought about Original Man and Ma’iingan. The men reminded me of Nazi guards at a concentration camp. And I remembered the story and how what happens to Ma’iingan, happens to us.
But there is another part of this story that is about why we are here today. Ma’iingan sent another four-legged to man, to other people. This was the Animoshag, the dogs. Like Ma’iingan, the Animoshag would become companions to man and be his closest friend. The descendants of Ma’iingan that are approaching us today remind us of the close relationship between Original Man and Ma’iingan. Today, they are bringing the message that we share together. And that message is we don’t want sulfide mining here.
In closing, in the Anishinaabe mindset, we think in terms of the Seventh Generation. When we undertake any actions or make any decisions, we consider how our actions and decisions will affect the Seventh Generation from now. It is that mindset that we all need to help guide us in our opposition to sulfide mining. What we do today, we do for the generations that follow.
Mii sa go