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
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
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.
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.
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.