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The Menominee River forms the boundary between Wisconsin and Michigan in the Upper Peninsula, and flows into Lake Michigan, feeding an abundant source of clean drinking water for the more than 35 million people. The river has held extremely important spiritual and cultural significance for the Menominee people for millennia.

The mouth of the Menominee River is the place where we came to be as a people — that is the reason it is called the Menominee River. We are tied to the river, and to our ancestral land along the river. Sacred mounds, burial sites, dance rings and raised agricultural beds remain to this day as a testament to our presence there. Most have not been fully characterized for identification of archaeological and cultural resources that warrant historic preservation.

Enter Aquila Resources, a Canadian mining company. Aquila is planning the development of the Back Forty project — an open-pit sulfide mine just 50 yards from the east bank of the Menominee River, which borders Marinette County, about 200 miles northeast of Madison. Aquila seeks to dig a 750-foot hole, 2,000 by 2,500 feet wide, for a massive mine to extract gold, zinc and copper on the Michigan side of the river. Operations will extract those metals from sulfide ore using cyanide at the mine site. In addition, the company is contemplating potential future expansion of the project, including underground mining and processing ore from other mineral deposits in northern Wisconsin.

Opposition to this project is overwhelming in the Menominee Nation. The Menominee Tribe has repeatedly voiced our concerns to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Nevertheless, the agency has granted multiple permits needed for this mine to move forward.

Mining is never clean, and sulfide mining is far riskier due to the potential for toxic acid mine drainage. When sulfide minerals are exposed to air or water, they create sulfuric acid, a highly corrosive substance that is a component of drain cleaners and battery acid.

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It is all but certain the Back Forty project would result in long-term water-quality contamination. Once abandoned, sulfide mines such as this invariably release toxic pollution. We can’t find one that hasn’t. And in the thousands of pages of materials submitted by Aquila relating to the Back Forty project, nothing suggests it would be any different than other mines that have widely contaminated waterways.

Gathering wild rice and harvesting lake sturgeon is central to Menominee culture, and the importance of these wild foods to our history, spirituality and subsistence lifestyle is well documented. Yet studies have shown the sulfuric acid that would be generated by the Back Forty project is highly dangerous to wild rice and lake sturgeon.

Tribal members travel the river to continue holding traditional ceremonies, and these practices would be limited by the development of this mine. If a 750-foot-deep pit with mountains of tailings surround our sacred landscape, we will not be able to continue practicing there. It will be forever lost.

The Menominee Nation and many allies are steadfastly opposed to the Back Forty Mine at the proposed location.

If a 750-foot-deep pit with mountains of tailings surround our sacred landscape, we will not be able to continue practicing traditional ceremonies there. It will be forever lost.

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Cox is chairman of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin: chairman@mitw.org.

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