Political Matters
Political Matters: PUC approves Sandpiper
Friday, July 10 2015
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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mordecaispecktor-web.jpgPUC approves Sandpiper

In early June, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) granted Enbridge, Inc. ( a certificate of need to build the Sandpiper pipeline from the Bakken oil patch in No. Dakota to Superior, Wisc.

Enbridge, based in Calgary, Alberta, still face many months of deliberations over the path of the pipeline. As I reported in this column last November, the PUC previously decided that six pipeline routes should be considered for Sandpiper — alternatives to the preferred Enbridge route. The route of Sandpiper purposely skirted reservation land; however, it would still run through the 1854 Treaty Ceded Territory, where members of Ojibwe bands have retained their rights to hunt, fish and gather.

So, Ojibwe bands in Minnesota (White Earth and Fond du Lac) have expressed concerns about the environmental threat posed by Sandpiper, as has Honor the Earth, a group founded, in 1993, by Winona LaDuke, and Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, of the Indigo Girls.

I watched some of the live webcast of the PUC’s Sandpiper hearing last month; and my heart goes out to the environmental activists who have to sit through such deadly dull proceedings. Like Winona.

“Fracked oil from the Bakken poses a serious risk to the North Country — particularly in light of the… 800,000 gallon oil spill in a remote area of North Dakota [in 2013],” Honor the Earth notes on its website ( “That spill, on a six-inch Tesoro line, went unmitigated for almost a week due to an understaffed Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), and all figures presently released come from Tesoro, the owner of the pipeline. The Sandpiper would carry that same oil, which has proven to be very volatile. In northern Minnesota a lot of our towns are 15-20 miles apart, with fire departments and rescue squads being even further apart. Response times are not quick and sometimes oil spills go days before discovered.”

Political Matters: Burial mounds bulldozed
Friday, June 05 2015
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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mordecaispecktor-web.jpgBurial mounds bulldozed

Whiteford’s Indian Burial Pit was a popular tourist trap in central Kansas, from 1936-1989. On open display were 147 skeletons of Indians.

The privately owned roadside attraction was closed after American Indians protested the disrespect being shown to their ancestors. The State of Kansas negotiated an agreement with the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, in 1990, and the 700-year-old skeletons were given a dignified burial.

The state of Minnesota recognized many years ago that ancient Indian burials deserve the same protection accorded to newer cemeteries. Section 307.08 of Minnesota’s Private Cemeteries Act “affords all human burial grounds and remains older than 50 years and located outside of platted or identified cemeteries protection from unauthorized disturbance,” according the Web site of the state archaeologist. The law applies to “prehistoric Indian burial mounds.”

Unfortunately, a Hennepin County road construction project near Lake Minnetonka succeeded in bulldozing a number of Indian burial mounds. The incident, which occurred in October 2014, was reported in the local press in May.

After the discovery of human remains, Hennepin County officials stopped work on what was to be roundabout at County Road 101 (known to locals as Bushaway Road) and Breezy Point Road, south of Gray’s Bay, in Minnetonka.

The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC) has assembled a team to gather bone fragments for reburial.

“I’m working with the four Dakota tribes within Minnesota, in collaboration with the Hamline University alumni students. They all have an archeology background, including the tribal members working on site with me,” Jim Jones, MIAC cultural resources director, said in a story by Meghan Davy in the Lakeshore Weekly News.

Political Matters: Pat Bellanger travels on/Recovering Pe'Sla
Monday, May 04 2015
Written by Ricey Wild,
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mordecai_specktor_some.jpgPat Bellanger travels on

On April 2, Pat Bellanger, one of the stalwart leaders of the American Indian Movement (AIM), went to the spirit world. Raised on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, she was 72.

I met Pat in the late-1970s, when I started writing for The Circle and traveling around Indian Country. She was always friendly, encouraging and helpful. A mutual friend remarked, during the wake for Pat at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, “I never heard her complain about anything."

“For years, she was the leading female spokesperson for Indian causes. She was known as Grandmother AIM,” Larry Leventhal, a legal champion of the Indian community, told the Star Tribune.

And Bill Means, a fellow board member of the International Indian Treaty Council, told the newspaper: “She was renown at a grass-roots level all the way to an international level for her ability to communicate the issues of indigenous people, and indigenous women as well.”

Pat leaves a legacy of struggle for Indian treaty rights and environmental justice. May her memory always be a blessing for her loved ones.

Political Matters: U.S. Steel vs. manoomin
Friday, March 27 2015
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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mordecai_specktor_some.jpgIn late March, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said that the state’s environmental standard for protecting manoomin (wild rice) was outdated scientifically and was threatening industrial development Up North.

At issue is state permitting for U.S. Steel’s Minntac plant, in Mountain Iron, the largest taconite operation in the U.S.

The facility’s taconite waste pit has been polluting the local watershed for decades; and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) informed state officials in January that the company is violating the Clean Water Act.

In a March 24 interview with Minnesota Public Radio News, Gov. Dayton addressed the state’s sulfate standard for wild rice waters.

“U.S. Steel has made it very clear — and they closed down the Keewatin plant, they’re still operating the Minntac plant — but they made it very clear that they’re not going to agree to a permit that has a standard of 10 [milligrams of sulfate per liter],” Dayton told MPR reporter Tom Scheck.

The governor said that the allowable sulfate level for wild rice waters “was posted in 1940, and established in the 1960s and ’70s, as the standard, which is not even applied to most other projects in Minnesota or any other place in the country. So, MPCA [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency] is going to be coming out shortly with a way of taking the updated scientific information and applying that to protecting the wild rice in the waters, which we certainly want to do, but it’s got to be done in a way that is based on current science and current information, and not something that is antiquated. We can talk with the EPA about collaborating with us in doing that and going through a public process to work that out.”

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