Political Matters: Native Issues in the Halls of Government
Wednesday, April 24 2013
Written by by Mordecai Specktor,
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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.

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