For the Present Generation to the Seventh Generation
Aniin Boozhoo. It is with urgency and concern that we write to you on behalf of the members of Protect Our Manoomin. We ask, with immediacy and expediency, that the recent legal and legislative attempts by the state of Minnesota regarding mining be brought to the attention of your honorable organization. We ask that issues related to copper and taconite mining be formally addressed by convening a mining conference that would include tribal representatives, tribal environmental departments, environmental groups, and experts.
Protect Our Manoomin is a grassroots Anishinaabeg organization that strongly opposes current legislation that will impact and devastate the natural wild rice stands and ecosystem in northern Minnesota. We are resolved, as a group of Anishinaabeg and non-Anishinaabeg, to resist any changes that endanger our manoomin. We have a 10 member council with members from Sandy Lake, East Lake, Rice Lake, Red Lake, White Earth, Leech Lake, and Fond du Lac. Our council is largely composed of individuals from intergenerational rice harvesting families who have harvested the rice for hundreds of years. We have 700 members in our Facebook group with an additional 2000 worldwide supporters who have signed our petition. We are currently funded by the Indigenous Environmental Network.
We seek to create awareness of sulfate and sulfide pollution from mining and its harmful effects on manoomin – a vital cultural, spiritual, and environmental resource. We feel recent legal and legislative attempts by the state of Minnesota to bend laws to benefit corporate interests risk the vitality of our manoomin beds and threaten our Anishinaabe culture and traditions by deluging our manoomin stands, waters, and air of our reservation communities with contaminates from mining.
Our main issues of concern include -
Wild rice/sulfate water quality standard:
The current wild rice/sulfate water standard is 10 milligrams per liter or mg/L. This was set by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in 1978. Concentrations that are over 10 mg/L can harm and endanger manoomin. There have been efforts by Minnesota lawmakers to change the standard, either by raising it to 50 mg/L to 250 mg/L or by suspending the standard altogether. The Minnesota legislature seeks these changes to appease the proposed development of copper mining in northeastern Minnesota. Changing the standard will lower the cost of water treatment facilities.
In 2011, the Minnesota Legislature passed H.F. 1010. Originally this bill was intended to raise the wild rice/sulfate standard to 50 mg/L. The bill was incorporated into the Environment/Energy/Commerce Omnibus Bill. After the shutdown, the Omnibus bill was passed. The wild rice/sulfate standard was dropped largely as a result of a letter sent by EPA that stated such action would violate Clean Water Act rules and regulations (see attachment). However, the main area of concern is interpretation of the bill that was passed regarding water treatment facilities. To wit:
Environment/Energy/Commerce Omnibus Bill, ARTICLE 4 STATUTORY CHANGES, Sec. 32. WILD RICE RULEMAKING AND RESEARCH: e) From the date of enactment until the rule amendment under paragraph (a) is finally adopted, to the extent allowable under the federal Clean Water Act or other federal laws, the Pollution Control Agency shall exercise its authority under federal and state laws and regulations to ensure, to the fullest extent possible, that no permittee is required to expend funds for design and implementation of sulfate treatment technologies. Nothing shall prevent the Pollution Control Agency from including in a schedule of compliance a requirement to monitor sulfate concentrations in discharges and, if appropriate, based on site-specific conditions, a requirement to implement a sulfate minimization plan to avoid or minimize sulfate concentrations during periods when wild rice may be susceptible to damage.
This law needs to be interpreted and clarified. The current law indicates that a permittee, like Polymet, is not required to implement water/sulfate treatment that will ensure minimization of sulfate discharges. If so, how will the wild rice/sulfate standard of 10 mg/L be maintained? According to a letter sent to Protect Our Manoomin by Paul Aasen, Commissioner of MPCA, the MPCA ensures the 10 mg/L will be maintained. But the question remains – how will the standard be maintained if water treatment isn’t maintained?
The Keetac Mine Expansion Project:
The U.S. Steel’s Keetac Mine at Keewatin proposes to restart an idle line and expand sections of its open pit iron ore mine. One section of Keetac’s Environmental Impact Study focuses on manoomin and sulfate. In summary:
Wild rice stands on Hay Creek and Hay Lake, Swan River and Swan Lake will be affected by sulfate concentrations that already exceed the wild rice/sulfate standard from the Keetac facility. Currently Hay Lake has concentrations of sulfate ranging from 48-55 mg/L; concentrations are expected to be 51-58 mg/L by 2021, and concentrations of 47-55 mg/L by 2036. Current concentrations for Swan Lake range from 25-30 mg/L; concentrations are expected to be 29-34 mg/L by 2021, and concentrations of 32-37 mg/L by 2036.
According to the Keetac EIS: The MPCA has determined that a nine year compliance schedule is a reasonable amount of time to take the steps necessary to write, review, revise, and implement a Water Management Study Plan, Sulfate Reduction Strategy Study Plan, and a Sulfate Reduction Plan, and potentially conduct a study to gather data and information that would support a total sulfate limit, other than the final limitations included in the permit.
One of the interesting points in the Keetac EIS is the disclosure that taconite mining per se is party to high concentrations of sulfate. There is no doubt that since the inception of iron ore mining in 1882, mines on the Iron Range have impacted our environment including our manoomin. Indeed, at the point where the Partridge River enters the St. Louis River and continuing to the St. Louis River basin, sulfates from taconite mining have created a “wild rice dead zone.”
Continued operations of U.S. Steel’s Keetac and Minntac mines promises high concentrations of sulfate and emissions of mercury. With the opening of copper mining, it stands to reason that concentrations of sulfates will increase proportionally to the number of taconite and copper mines in operation. This is a great concern. Tribal monitoring programs will be essential, especially in ceded areas. Ceded areas provide, under treaty rights, usufructuary to harvest manoomin. Because many manoomin beds are located in ceded areas, monitoring is essential.
How will the proposed Polymet mine impact manoomin stands in the 1855 Ceded Territory? In February 2001, Polymet received a 4 million dollar loan from Iron Range Resources (IRR) to buy land that will, in turn, be exchanged for national forest land. How will this impact tribal rights under the 1855 Treaty?
What will be the overall impact on manoomin stands by other nonferrous mining companies that are expected to apply for mining permits? These companies include Franconia Minerals Corporation, Twin Metals/Twin Duluth, Cardero Resource Corporation, and Teck Mining Company.
EPA and Ceded Territories:
EPA Clean Water Act (CWA) regulations need to be enforced to ensure the safety of surface and groundwater within reservation borders and on ceded territories. Sulfate contaminates in ceded areas could flow into tribal streams and rivers. How does the CWA protect off-reservation water surfaces that impact tribal waters?
Nonferrous Exploratory Surveying in Aitkin County:
In 2010, the DNR held a silent auction for mineral exploration rights in Aitkin County. These auctions are held to encourage prospecting. HTX Minerals Corporation, a Canadian company, bid on six parcels; Minerals Processing Corporation, a Duluth company operating the Eagle Mines in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, bid on six; and Kennecott Exploration Company, already operating in Aitkin County and a division of Rio Tinto, bid on 41 sections.
The question that should be asked is if Kennecott opens copper-nickel mines in Crow Wing and Aitkin Counties, with a sulfur mine in Aitkin (as indicated on Minerals Industries of Minnesota map – see attachment), how will these proposed mines impact the manoomin stands in the rivers and streams in this area? How will the sulfates and mercury impact the fish population in Lake Mille Lacs?
As stated in Preserving the Integrity of Manoomin in Minnesota:
“[M]anoomin is a living entity that has its own unique spirit. Anishinaabeg have a responsibility to respect that spirit and to care for it.” (Wild Rice White Paper, Nibi and Manoomin Symposium, 2011)
Manoomin is a sacred gift from Gichi-Manidoo to enjoy and to be sustained by. We know this because it has been taught to us as by our elders and our ancestors. We offer asemaa in recognition of that plant's gift and sacrifice every year before harvesting. Manoomin is also served ceremonially for that same reason. Additionally, manoomin has medicinal qualities for healing. Manoomin is a part of our interconnectedness to the Four Orders of Life and in accordance with the original instructions given to us by Gichi Manidoo, the Creator. Its importance and our dependence upon its bounty comes from deep within our history, from the times when we were given our prophecies over 500 years ago. We have long recognized its integrity in maintaining not only a healthy community for humans, but also for other living creatures that inhabit and are endemic to where it occurs. This has also been noted by the American government in its treaty negotiations with our people long before Minnesota was even a state as noted in the 1837 Treaty of St. Peters. To wit:
ARTICLE 5: The privilege of hunting, fishing, and gathering the wild rice, upon the lands, the rivers and the lakes included in the territory ceded, is guarantied to the Indians, during the pleasure of the President of the United States.
Therefore we ask that your honorable organization, with immediacy and thoroughness, to examine and address recent attempts by the Minnesota legislature and the mining companies who are seeking to establish industries that will disturb and infringe on our inherent gathering rights as sovereign nations, our life giving waters, and the very quality of our lives to an extent that is terrifying and unacceptable. We feel that this would be yet another undue burden and risk that the Anishinaabeg and our relations will have to endure, after we have had to endure so much already. We ask for your attention, support and help for your Indigenous relations in protecting our manoomin for the Seventh Generation. We must seek to preserve and protect our resources for the unborn Anishinaabeg that are yet to come, that they may be able to enjoy that wonderful good berry, that life giving gift we call manoomin.
As a result of unanswered questions and concerns, there is an underlying trust issue in this pressing matter towards some of our elected state and tribal officials. We feel it imperative that our tribal leaders and representatives engage in an open dialogue on mining to better inform their constituents and communities on issues regarding mining.
In the best interest of our communities and tribal citizens, we formally request that this threat to one of our community's greatest resources be addressed by our tribal leaders. We ask, on behalf of our supporters, our elders, and our children, that a mining conference be convened to consider the grave consequences and risks that are before us.
We appreciate your time, consideration and the great efforts your honorable organization makes to preserve, protect and support the Native communities across Minnesota. Ahaaw dash mii’gwech.
Protect Our Manoomin Council