EagleHerald Staff Writer
MARINETTE—The water celebration and protest against the Back Forty Mine Friday drew people from myriad social justice organizations and indigenous tribes hailing from places as far as New Mexico, Utah, the Dakotas and British Columbia.
The event featured speakers from the Menominee Nation, the Indigenous Caucus of the Western Mining Action Network (WMAN) and the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River with a keynote speech by retired University of Wisconsin-La Crosse professor Dr. Al Gedicks.
Individuals from outside these organizations also attended the event to learn about the Back Forty Mine and its potential impacts on the local community.
Illinois resident Jennifer Martinez drove to Marinette to join the celebration and protest. She said she first learned about the issue during a bike ride when she saw a Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River sign in front of Chief Oshkosh Native American Arts in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin. This piqued her interest, and she began watching videos and reading materials to learn more about the coalition.
“If this was in my backyard, I wouldn’t let it happen,” she said regarding the Back Forty Mine.
As an avid cyclist, Martinez decided to design and sell a cycling jersey with information about the Back Forty Mine that she hopes will incite conversation about the issue.
The event also addressed issues beyond the Back Forty Mine and brought together people who are contending with the impacts of mining across North America.
Tribal Judge June Lorenzo, who is part of the Laguna Pueblo and Diné (Navajo) tribes, came from New Mexico to speak at the event and share information about the mining that has affected her home community.
Lorenzo works in conjunction with the Indigenous Caucus of the Western Mining Action Network, which seeks to resist new uranium mining projects across the nation, and is also part of the Laguna-Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment, an organization dedicated to protecting indigenous cultural sites and assessing the health impacts from past uranium mining.
The celebration was the first face-to-face meeting for members of the Indigenous Caucus since 2010, according to the WMAN. Lorenzo said the caucus tries to meet in places where they can help the host community take action on an issue. Meeting in Marinette to protest the Back Forty Mine, therefore, was a logical choice.
“It’s good to see our friends and relatives, it’s really good to see allies and the work and the movement,” Lorenzo said. “We’re grateful that we got to make a connection to this beautiful place.”
In addition to addressing the potential environmental and health impacts of the mine, the event highlighted the cultural significance of the proposed site and the Menominee River for the Menominee people.
Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act designate for the Menominee tribe David Grignon spoke about efforts to add indigenous sites in Menominee and Michigan on a national register to block future attempts to mine in the area. He said the nomination is currently being reviewed by state historic preservation officers in Michigan and Wisconsin, after which it will go to the National Parks Service for consideration.
Prior to the protest, tribal members invited the public to observe a ceremony celebrating the waters of the Menominee River, during which the participants, who were all women, sang “Water I love you, water I thank you, water I respect you” in the Ojibwe language.
As participants of the protest against the Back Forty Mine made their way across the bridge from Stephenson Island to Menominee following the ceremony, passing cars honked in support and were met with cheers from the protesters. The atmosphere seemed to reflect the sentiments of what Gedicks claimed during his speech:
“This project has no social license to operate,” he said.