In the past few years, an area on state land about 20 miles away from Marquette has caught the eye of a mining company called Kennecott. The area is called Eagle Rock in the Yellow Dog Plains, and is expected to yield 250 to 300 million pounds of nickel and about 200 million pounds of copper, as well as several other minerals. The project is expected to create many jobs in the Upper Peninsula, as well as encourage new mining operations here.
The site is also a sacred site to the Ojibwa Nation. The land was ceded to them in an 1842 treaty. This treaty gave Native Americans the right to hunt, gather, fish and conduct sacred ceremonies on Eagle Rock in the Yellow Dog Plains and all public lands in the central and western Upper Peninsula, stretching into Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Many against the mine have cited several reasons for their position, among them environmental concerns and the numerous controversies surrounding Kennecott’s parent company, Rio Tinto. But of all the reasons to be against this mine, the mining of a sacred site of a Native American tribe is the most concerning.
Although the Ojibwa was given this land by a federal treaty, the land was leased to Kennecott by the state of Michigan. And so the sacred site has been fenced off from the very people who have gone there for generations to pray and perform ritual.
On April 20, a woman named Cynthia Pyror was arrested on the land, allegedly for trespassing. She claims she was sitting on a tree stump with her dog near the mine when Kennecott security called police and had her arrested. Kennecott claims she was actively interfering in their operations. Pyror believed she had a right to be there because it was state land.
Since Pyror’s release, a camp was formed by several protesters outside of the mine. They camped peacefully along the fence on state land, the same land on which they are allowed to live by federal treaty. They were there for a month before Kennecott called the police. Six people were at the camp at that time on May 27. Two who refused to leave were arrested for trespassing on leased property. The police, who believed a riot was going to break out, sent 20 police cars, according to Save the Wild UP.
One of the people arrested, Charlotte Loonsfoot, returned a few months later to camp outside of the mine, even though her trial was fast approaching in September. The new camp is located on private property, a half mile away from the mine.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an obligation to find out if Eagle Rock should be protected under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA.) According to their website, Eagle Rock could be considered a “traditional cultural property” under the NHPA. If it does apply, the EPA would be forced to review the mining permits they have issued to Kennecott and possibly stop the mine from operating.
The EPA said on its website that “regulations require EPA to seek input from all affected tribes and interested parties. If the NHPA is applicable, EPA will consider any possible adverse affect of a … permit.” While the EPA is making their so-careful assessment of the situation, Kennecott has begun construction on the mine. Native Americans are left to watch their sacred site be occupied and fenced off from their use.
For years, Native Americans argued that Eagle Rock was a place of worship and therefore should be protected from the interests of Kennecott. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was reviewing the claim and when it became clear that the DEQ was going to cease to exist and instead be incorporated into the new Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, the DEQ rushed their decision. Two days before the DEQ ceased to exist, they declared that “places of worship” can only include buildings.
The ruling was monumentally ignorant. The Jordan River in the Middle East, for instance, is a sacred site to three major religions on the earth: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. I understand that Eagle Rock has a similar function for the Ojibwa tribe. It is a site where one goes to pray and do ritual. That sounds a lot like worship to me. Are we supposed to believe that there is nothing sacred about this site simply because it is not a building?
Currently, the protestors are asking for donations to keep their camp going. They also welcome fellow protesters. To find out more about the protest, go to www.savethewildup.org.