By Barbara With, photos by Rebecca Kemble
Even as Jon Greendeer, president of the Ho-Chunk Nation, was delivering a wry but laser-sharp message during the Eighth Annual State of the Tribes address in Madison WI on Tuesday, the corporate press was preparing yet another propaganda story about mining. This time they were fabricating the tribes’ support of it.
With members of the sovereign nations of the eleven Wisconsin Indian Tribes filling the galleries and state legislators looking on, Greendeer began his address with a reminder of what Indian Country stands for: Respect.
“It’s not that difficult to practice, but as you know, it’s hard to find in places where there is discourse and dissension, especially in places where common ground may never be found,” Greendeer said.
In an apparent response to the refusal of the Republicans to recognize the federal treaty rights of the tribes during a slew of recent bills that affect ground water quality and wildlife management, Greendeer stated, “Much time has been spent getting us this far as we try to retrofit the entire state government to be more inclusive of the sovereign tribes, especially on policy and spending that affect our public responsibility to the tribal members and communities we serve. Now the quality of consultation will always be questioned, and perhaps graded, especially when consultation is couched in a foregone conclusion which is to say, if tribal input is without effect or is after-the-fact, consultation has not taken place.”
On January 26, Republicans in the Assembly locked the public out and illegally passed a version of a mining bill that did not consider the overwhelming sentiment against it expressed at two public hearings. However, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians were denied their legal place in the negotiation in violation of treaty rights that recognize their right to co-manage the natural resources within ceded territories – the northern third portion of the state – that affect their communities.
A proposed 22-mile open pit iron ore mine site in the Penokee Hills would directly impact the Bad River watershed. Geologists testified at a February 17 public hearing that the rock over laying the banded iron formation contains enough sulfide that when it is crushed and added with water, it would produce billions of gallons of acid that would destroy the wild rice fields situated only six miles downstream of the mine. After several versions of the bill failed to pass, Bill Williams of Gogebic Taconite, author of one of the versions, announced that his company was leaving the state because Wisconsin was not “welcoming” enough. This despite the fact that lawyers for G-Tac drafted the original bill.
President Greendeer reminded the audience that the Wisconsin tribes are already some of the biggest employers in the state and in some counties are the largest employers. They “employ over 13,000 tribal and non-tribal people, with a total payroll approaching 340 million dollars.” And unlike many of the corporations, including G-Tac, who claim to need tax cuts to operate efficiently in Wisconsin, “The tribes collect and remit 97 million dollars in state and federal income taxes. Tribal purchasing adds another 500 million dollars to local suppliers and vendors, totaling nearly a billion dollars in economic impact to the state.”
So why do non-Native American businesses need to be exempt from contributing taxes in order to succeed here?
In his speech on Tuesday, Greendeer displayed subtlety as he indirectly addressed these issues. “Media continues to hold the monopoly on how complex we make this issue and what we end up discussing at the dinner table. Although the issue is mufti-faceted, the Anishinabeg people haven’t strayed from the central principle; that good caretakers of the land will never find a level of contamination or disregard for sovereign authority worth compromising.”
True to form, shortly after Greendeer spoke, Associated Press in Wisconsin released a misleading report that was picked up by several local media, including the Beloit Daily News, The LaCrosse Tribune and the Green Bay Press Gazette, claiming, “A Wisconsin tribal leader says he’s optimistic state lawmakers and tribes can move forward on mining legislation.” Statehouse News Online published an article by Ryan Ekvall of Wisconsin Reporter with the headline, “WI’s tribal nations hold out hope for mining compromise.” And the Ashland Daily Press, owned by pro-mining advocates, ran an obviously quickly-written and poorly proofed story, quoting failed Tea Party candidate Shirl LaBarre, and defending DNR Secretary Cathy Sepp (sic. – her name is Stepp) against attacks from her press release last week supporting mining.
This kind of misleading reporting appears to be exactly what Greendeer was referring to. Citizens of the state have been barraged with a continuous stream of pro-mining lies and propaganda which continues to mislead the public on the dangers of mining and overstate the economic benefits of a mine in the Penokee Hills. And yet, even in the face of such irresponsible “reporting,” none of the mining bills have passed through the legislature.
On Monday, March 19, another public hearing will be held at the Capitol on all three versions of the mining bill. Citizens will once again be called to travel from all corners of the state at the last minute to stand up and tell the legislators, again, that mining jobs are not worth destroying the water and the environment of the surrounding communities.
Greendeer articulated the tribes’ united position at the end of his address when he concluded, “Chairman Mike Wiggins of the Bad River, not the Bad Water, said it best that tribes recognize any threats to surface water, ground water, air quality, and our way of life as a call to action. Educating on the effects of mining is less of a struggle than trying to induce a sense of value for our natural world, our mother, our grandmother. The challenge staring us in the face is bringing this value with such little time in the political game.”
The not-so-subtle message Greendeer and the tribes brought was that they are prepared not only to stand united in protecting their rights and the rights of the communities in which they serve, but they will take action to make sure those rights are properly respected and maintained. Thousands of non-native citizens around the state are prepared to do the same in regards to taking action to protect the sovereign nation’s federal treaty rights which are still in full effect in the State of Wisconsin.
Nowhere in Greendeer’s entire address was there any indication that he is “optimistic state lawmakers and tribes can move forward on mining legislation.” This is yet another argument for abandoning mainstream news sources.
TAKE ACTION: MEDIA CALL-OUT
Call Associate Press and Statehouse News Online ask them why they would print misleading statements.
Associate Press in Madison
Scott Bauer firstname.lastname@example.org
Todd Richmond email@example.com
Statehouse News Online
c/o Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity
127 S. Peyton Street, Suite 200
Alexandria, VA, 22314
Office Phone: 571-384-2090
Meghan Tisinger at Meghan.Tisinger@FranklinCenterHQ.org
TAKE ACTION: LEGISLATIVE
Monday, March 19th
Public Hearing on all three mining bills
Email or phone your legislator and tell them to kill all the mining bills until after the recall.
Find your legislator here.
Watch all of Jon Greendeer’s Address on IndianCountyTV.com: