By Eric Hjerstedt Sharp
MADISON ¬¬– Calling for cooperative environmental stewardship regarding the proposed open pit iron mining adjacent to the Bad River Reservation, Chairman Michael Wiggins, Jr. received praise for his annual State of the Tribes address in at the State Capitol in Madison by both tribal and state legislative leaders Tuesday following the event.
Wiggins speech packed the State Assembly with tribal leaders, government officials and 96 state senate and assembly members following an outdoor ceremony Tuesday morning. Although the Capitol building was still locked down, requiring participants to show their I.D.’s to gain entry, the massive protest crowds that have marked the lawn in recent weeks over Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining policy were not present. Neither was Walker; although Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen and other state officials were inside for the speech.
“Most people will never see where the water they drink comes out of the ground,” Wiggins said. “ … Our lands and water define who we are as Ojibwe people.” Wiggins cited naturalist Sigurd Olson’s book Runes of the North in recognizing the “paradigm shift” in discovering the “wonderment and awe” of the north. Wiggins also proposed a partnership between native and non-native people to help preserve Wisconsin’s unique environment. He said he was “looking forward to more work … more cooperation.”
Stating “they knew we were coming here today,” Wiggins referred to a Madison newspaper’s above-the-fold headline: “Mine seen as economic boon,” as a concern of his with regards to an example of environmental activity of concern of “all people of Wisconsin – tribal and non-tribal.”
Gogebic Taconite is proposing development of an open pit mine just east of the Bad River Reservation in Ashland and Iron counties. Mine owners say the mine would generate as many as 700 jobs, with hundreds more indirectly employed throughout northern Wisconsin.
However, there is criticism by some area residents, such as Nick Vander Puy of La Pointe, who writes about environmental issues from his Superior Broadcast Network. “About the only thing better than Mike Wiggin’s speech would have been to erect a lodge with ironwood poles inside the capital and occupy the site until the mining companies pack up and leave our territory.
“It felt really good hearing Bad River leader Mike Wiggins invite non-Indian support fighting (the mine),” Vander Puy added.
Lac du Flambeau Tribal Chairman Tom Maulson said Tuesday that he also has concerns about the mining in Ashland and Iron counties.
“Why do we have to dig in the ground for minerals that are already out of the ground,” Maulson said. “I’m dead set against mining.”
Wiggins also covered a variety of topics including joint management of tribal and state governance, tourism, land and water stewardship, job training and economic development and law enforcement.
Mic Isham, Lac Courte Oreilles, also praised Wiggins address. Chairman of the Voigt Inter-Tribal Task Force, Isham said after the speech that wildlife and other environmental amenities are what establish “family memories” that make northern Wisconsin attractive.
Wisconsin state Sen. Robert Jauch called Wiggin’s address “a remarkable speech.” He respectively … reminded us that we should honor the earth.”
Ho Chunk President Wilfrid “Willy” Cleveland credited the state’s tribal conference for coming up with the ideas that were incorporated into the annual State of the Tribes Address.
LCO tribal member David Coons said it was “a powerful speech” pointing particularly to the mining and sovereignty issues Wiggins addressed.
Oneida Nation Chairman Rick Hill said the speech covered the important topics of protecting the environment, health care, economic development, education and elder issues.