Political Matters – February 2024


By Mordecai Specktor

Mille Lacs Band vs. Tamarack nickel mine
I’ve written a bit about the Talon Metals Corp. scheme to mine nickel in Aitkin County. The company calls it the Tamarack Nickel Project, which has a “land package” of around 31,000 acres. In June 2023, Talon submitted an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). In its Dec. 2023 newsletter, Talon noted that the DNR and “local Tribal governments are currently undergoing a meticulous review and comment period.”

Rio Tinto, a global mining firm with a checkered reputation, has a stake in the mine project, which is being sold to the public as a vital component of the transition to renewable resources – in particular, supplying nickel for electric vehicle (EV) batteries. Tesla, the electric car company, has committed to buying nickel from the proposed underground Talon mine.

The profile of opposition to the Tamarack mine was raised in January with the publication in the Star Tribune of an opinion article penned by Melanie Benjamin, chief executive and chairwoman of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

In her piece, Benjamin mentioned that the mining issue “hits particularly close to home as the proposed Tamarack Mine, a nickel mine brought forward by Talon Metals, is located within 1.3 miles of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe community. Nickel mines have a consistent track record of pollution, both during and after operation. Abandoned hard rock mines have contributed to the contamination of an estimated 40% of the country’s rivers and 50% of its lakes. The proposed Tamarack nickel mine is a threat to the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe – to our people, to other Indigenous groups, our land and to the broader Minnesota population and our state’s natural resources and watersheds.

“Talon Metals is positioning its nickel mine as an urgent solution to electric vehicle production demand. The Mille Lacs Band supports the transition to a green economy. However, we believe a green economy can be advanced without relying on practices that threaten Indigenous people and resources.”

In response to the Tamarack nickel mine proposal, the Mille Lacs Band has launched Water Over Nickel (waterovernickel.com), which Benjamin said is an initiative “to ensure our voices and our concerns about the impact of nickel mining on native communities will be heard and acknowledged.” Among the Mille Lacs Band’s partners in Water Over Nickel are Earthjustice and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

In concluding her article, Benjamin warned that Talon Metals has not produced “any science or data” to substantiate claims that nickel mining can be done safely: “Yet we continue to see Talon aggressively expanding its mining exploration activities beyond its original plans and the area outlined in the permit it has submitted” to the DNR. “Their actions mirror what we’ve seen before: entering with a modest proposal that rapidly swells in size and scope, leaving damage in its wake.”

Benjamin encouraged Minnesotans “to remain cautious and skeptical” about the Talon mining scheme, participate in the upcoming public comment period and engage with Water Over Nickel.

Native actors in the news
I imagine that readers of The Circle were joyful seeing Lily Gladstone (Piegan Blackfeet and Nez Perce) recently win the Golden Globe best actress award for her role in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” I recently watched the film directed by Martin Scorsese, which is now streaming on Apple TV+. Gladstone’s portrayal of Mollie Burkhart, a member of the Osage tribe who is married to Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), is powerful and excruciating. And now she’s nominated for a best actress Oscar. The Academy Awards ceremony will be broadcast on March 10.

I’ve mentioned in recent columns that Native arts and culture has been enjoying a moment of exposure in the larger zeitgeist, with major cultural institutions hosting exhibitions, plays, etc. And there are Indians on TV, in shows like “Reservation Dogs.” On the television front, I want to mention the fourth season of “True Detective,” which is rolling out on HBO/Max. The current season, which is subtitled “Night Country,” is set in fictional Ennis, Alaska, and features Jodie Foster as Liz Danvers, a detective investigating some bizarre killings. As the show points out, in Ennis there is a permeable barrier between this world and the world of the spirits. The show, with a large cast of Native Alaskans, also features Isabella Star LaBlanc (Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota), who attended St. Paul Academy. As a child actor, she performed at the local SteppingStone Theatre, and later at Jungle Theater in Minneapolis. In “True Detective: Night Country,” LaBlanc stands out in the role of Leah Danvers, the daughter of Foster’s character.
I’m looking forward to the upcoming episodes.