Native Issues in the Halls of Government


Protect Our Manoomin

The environmental threats from proposed copper-nickel mining in northeastern Minnesota will come into public view when dogsled mushers deliver petitions to the Capitol in St. Paul on March 8. As I write this column, a sled dog run is scheduled to leave Ely and Grand Marais in a few days, with stops in Finland and Duluth, and a rally with the mushers and sled dogs 10:30 a.m. Thursday, March 8 at the Capitol.

The Canadian firm PolyMet ( is leading the charge to dig out copper, nickel and precious metals in the Duluth Complex, in and around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness – and in the 1854 Treaty Ceded Territory.

Pollution from sulfide mining, as this heavy metal extraction process is called, poses a threat to ground and surface water. I wrote in my August column about Minnesota elected officials removing the long-established standard for sulfate levels in wild rice waters; the measure was pushed through the 2011 Legislature by politicians willing to trade the health of the environment – and what’s left of the manoomin, wild rice – for some mining jobs.

Regarding the proposed PolyMet mine at Babbit, and a processing plant in Hoyt Lakes, the company announced in early February that it was pushing back the timeline for producing a revised environmental impact statement (EIS). Delays in getting a permit for PolyMet’s NorthMet project go back to 2007; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent PolyMet back to the drawing board, when it found deficiencies in the company’s EIS filed in 2009

A supplemental draft EIS is reportedly expected this spring, with public review and comment in the fall of 2012.

The dogsled run to the Capitol shows that there is growing community-based opposition up north to the sulfide mining schemes. A March 4 rally in Duluth’s Lester Park will feature dogsled racer Frank Moe; Karen Diver, chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band; and the band’s water protection specialist Nancy Schuldt, among other speakers.

Information about Sled Dogs to St. Paul can found at:, or at Protect Our Manoomin on Facebook.

Addicted to Indian Mascots

Some supporters of University of North Dakota (UND) sports teams are pressing on in their efforts to keep the school’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. Last November, the North Dakota Legislature repealed a law passed earlier in the year that kept the Fighting Sioux name in place. With the Fighting Sioux logo and name on the way out, nickname fans collected enough petition signatures to get the Fighting Sioux name back through a statewide ballot initiative.

The story goes back to 2005, when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) banned the use of American Indian names and mascots. The state of North Dakota subsequently sued the NCAA over its rule on Indian imagery, and lost the case. In 2007, the NCAA and UND signed a settlement agreement, which stipulated that unless the two Sioux tribes in North Dakota -Spirit Lake and Standing Rock – agreed to the school’s continued use of the Fighting Sioux nickname, it would have to be retired. Spirit Lake approved the use of the nickname, but the Standing Rock tribal council nixed it.

In June the citizens of North Dakota will vote on whether or not to keep the Fighting Sioux nickname. If the name stays, the NCAA will ban UND teams from their tournaments and Division I post-season play. Schools in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and elsewhere could cancel games against UND teams.

In mid-February, UND men’s hockey coach Dave Hakstol, a former staunch supporter of the nickname, publicly spoke out against continued use of the Fighting Sioux moniker. Hakstol argued that the NCAA will not back down from its opposition to schools using Indian names and symbols, without the approval of local tribes. He also raised the possibility that UND will be kicked out of the Big Sky Conference, if it maintains the nickname.

"With all of these factors in mind, I don’t see any way that the University of North Dakota can be a fully successful Division I entity across all sports if we continue to mandate by law the use of the Fighting Sioux," the hockey coach told the Associated Press.

A segment of UND fans seem to be addicted to the Fighting Sioux nickname. And like those addicted to drugs or booze, they exhibit impaired judgment about the negative consequences of their behavior. In a misguided attempt to preserve tradition – or "honor" Indian heritage – a segment of North Dakotans are set on a path to ruin UND sports.

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