Political Matters: Native Issues in the Halls of Government

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Meeting the activists

In late March I motored over to the Minneapolis American Indian Center (MAIC), from the far east of the Powderhorn neighborhood, for a reception and press conference with visiting guests at a symposium on environmental issues. I was told to show up around 7 p.m. for the event, which featured some Canadian activists with the Idle No More movement; however, the visitors had left about a half hour earlier. No problem, I can be flexible.

And the situation put me in mind of the 1982 International Indian Treaty

Conference, which took place on what was then called the Papago

reservation (now known as the Tohono O’odham Nation), a rugged expanse

of land in southern Arizona, on the Mexican border. That conference had

its opening plenum delayed – for three days. This interval allowed the

early arrivals plenty of time to smoke cigarettes, drink coffee, and get

to know their neighbors in the parched desert wash teeming with

scorpions, tarantulas and diamondback rattlesnakes.

At the MAIC, I

found two activists to interview: Marty Cobenais, from Red Lake, who is

the Indigenous Environmental Network’s (IEN) pipeline coordinator; and

Reyna Crow, from Duluth, who is with the Northwoods Wolf Alliance and

Idle No More Duluth.

We talked about the killing of ma’iingan,

brother wolf in the western Great Lakes states; environmental threats

from mining in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan;

and the ongoing occupation of the Enbridge pipeline, which is located

on a Red Lake band tract of land apart from the main reservation, near

the tiny town of Leonard, Minnesota.

Crow talked about the recent

victory in the Minnesota Legislature, when the Senate Environment and

Energy Committee approved a measure that would establish a five-year

moratorium on hunting and trapping wolves. The bill passed on a 7-6

vote. However, Crow told me that the companion measure in the House was

going nowhere, because Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, chair of the

Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee, refused to hold a

hearing.

Indeed, that seems to be the case. I talked in late March

with Taina Maki, who is the legislative assistant to Sen. John Marty. He

chairs the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. She said that the

Senate legislation was sent on to the committee’s finance division,

which is chaired by Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, and that he has

not scheduled a hearing.

The legislative staffers I talked with said

that no action likely would be taken on the wolf moratorium bill in the

2013 legislative session. I think that this means there will be another

wolf hunting and trapping season in the fall.

Crow also mentioned the

struggle by the Bad River band in Wisconsin to stop the permitting of

what is reported to be the largest open-pit iron ore mine in the world.

In early March, Bad River chairman Mike Wiggins Jr. joined with other

tribal leaders at the Capitol in Madison to speak out against the mine

development.

Wiggins, according to a report in the Wausau Herald

Tribune, said that tribal members “stand ready to fight and resist this

effort to the bitter end, until the mining company goes away.” The

newspaper also noted that Wisconsin Republicans support easing the

state’s regulatory process, because a “a mine in the Penokee Hills near

Lake Superior will create jobs and help the economy.”

The tribe and

environmental groups warn that the mine would endanger a 16,000-acre

wetland complex and wild rice beds within the Bad River reservation.

On

March 15, Wiggins announced the creation of a defense fund for his

tribe’s legal fight against the iron ore mine, which would be located

within northern Wisconsin ceded territory.

Turning to Minnesota,

Marty Cobenais had some stories from the Enbridge pipeline occupation,

which had been going on for three weeks when we talked. Enbridge, a

Canadian pipeline giant, has four pipelines running on the tract that is

part of the Red Lake homeland. No easement was ever obtained for the

pipelines – which carry North Dakota and Canadian sweet crude oil and

heavy tar sands oil from Alberta, according to Cobenais.

He said

that Enbridge has run its pipelines in the area since 1949; last August,

the Red Lake band chairman, Floyd Jourdain Jr. wrote a stern letter to

Enbridge officials, telling them to move the pipelines. Cobenais said

that the Red Lake band does not support the occupiers. He also mentioned

that Enbridge officials visited the occupation site by helicopter

recently, and offered a gift of two pounds of whole bean coffee – the

occupiers had no way to grind up the coffee beans.