Gallery I
Disturbing Sacred Places
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Wrong Ruling: Anishnabe Sacred Rock Not A Place To Worship

By James Donahue

Using the same kind of twisted mindset that five members of the U.S. Supreme Court used in deciding that big corporations are entitled to freely finance political campaigns, a Michigan environmental agency recently approved a controversial lead and copper mine that oversteps a state law prohibiting mining at or near “places of worship.”

It appears that when big money is involved, it proves our premise that the thread-worn phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance; “liberty and justice for all,” is and has always been a myth. If the payoff is large enough, there is no such thing as an impartial or unbiased decision on the part of the courts and public authority figures.

While the Michigan case is localized and lacks the impact of the Supreme Court ruling, it might be shown as an archetype to the impact such imbalanced decisions have on the people caught under the thumb of the ruling class.

The Michigan case involves a plan by the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company of Canada to begin mining operations for copper and lead deposits on public land in the Yellow Dog Plain near Marquette, in the state’s Upper Peninsula.

The project, which has been embroiled in a seven-year-long battle against several groups concerned that acid drainage from the mine will pollute water wells, the nearby Salmon Trout River and Lake Superior, would offer hundreds of construction and mining jobs to the economically depressed area.

Among the opposition groups are members of the Anishnabe people that include the Chippewa and Ojibway tribes, who regard a large formation known as Eagle Rock and the territory surrounding it as a most sacred place. Colorful tobacco ties, carved wooden figures and dream catchers hang from the trees throughout the area to this day.

The Kennecott proposal is to blast through Eagle Rock and tunnel west under the Salmon Trout River into acid-generating sulfide ore to extract nickel and copper. The mining operation would be a sacrilege to everything the tribes worship about that place.

The battle over permits to allow the mine has been lying in the offices of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for months. Strangely, the major issue has not been the question of pollution, but rather a state law that protects residential dwellings, business places, places of worship, schools, hospitals and government buildings” when permitting a mine.

The DEQ, which became part of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment on Jan. 17, had been waiting on recommendations of Administrative Law Judge Richard A. Patterson concerning the mine’s impact on the tribal religious practices at Eagle Rock.

But two days before the DEQ went out of existence and before hearing Judge Patterson’s opinion, it issued the ruling that state law only recognizes buildings as places of worship, and that a rock in a forest did not meet this criteria. The decision thus cleared the way for issuing permits to build the mine.

Patterson earlier recommended moving the entrance to the mine from Eagle
Rock to another location so that it would not impact the sacred tribal site. There is no indication, however, that Kennecott has changed its plan.

This is the second time the DEQ has approved mining and groundwater discharge permits for Kennecott’s long sought mine. An earlier 2007 decision was challenged in an administrative appeal by the National Wildlife Federation, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve and the Huron Mountain Club.

If you think this is a minor issue, consider this. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula sits on top of one of the largest deposits of lead, copper, iron and other metals in the world. Copper mining was a big business at Marquette and on the Keweenaw Peninsula for many years until other competitive mining operations began supplying world demand. What is left is located deep in the ground and it will be costly to reach.

As the world moves speedily into new electronic and green technology, there is a rising demand for both metals. There is obviously big money involved in the decision at Eagle Rock.

We must issue a word of warning at this point. The Native Americans, like aboriginal people all over the world, pay great respect to the Mother Earth because they recognize her as a living force that provides for their daily needs.

During the time we lived with the Navajo, the Hopi and Apache people in Arizona, we learned that the Mother Earth provides for those who love and protect her creation. Those who scoff and lay to ruin the sacred places risk her wrath.