February 13, 2013 by Barbara With and Rebecca Kemble
In a nationally circulated article concerning Wisconsin’s dismal job creation numbers, Associated Press reporter Todd Richmond attempts to scapegoat the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa as the reason Gov. Scott Walker’s record on jobs creation is the worst in the country. Walker, who has been struggling to deliver on a campaign pledge to create 250,000 new jobs before he launches his 2014 re-election bid, plans to take his massive failures out on what Mike Wiggins Jr. calls, “a small group of brown people.”
Wiggins is Chair of the Bad River Band that opposes a 21-mile mountaintop removal open pit mine being proposed for the Penokee Hills in northern Wisconsin. GTac, the mining company who authored the bill being fast-tracked through the legislature, intends to build the largest open pit iron ore mine in the world, six miles upstream of the border of Wiggins’ reservation. The acid mine drainage from pyrite-rich tailings piles would destroy the wild rice in the sloughs directly in the path of the mine and contaminate the entire Bad River watershed.
The Bad River Casino, mentioned in the article as the “smallest in the state,” is also the largest employer in Ashland County where the mine will be built. The casino employs over 220 workers, and through gaming compacts, it contributes $100,000 annually to fund local services, including law enforcement, victim services, the Boys and Girls Club and economic development initiatives in the county.
Bad River tribal attorney Philomena Kebec countered Richmond’s portrayal of Bad River as an impoverished, run-down community. She commented, “Bad River programs and enterprises have benefited the State of Wisconsin, Ashland and Iron Counties, and the various townships in this region in numerous ways, including increased commerce and employment opportunities, the generation of federal, state and local taxes, cultural and educational benefits, reductions in demand for public assistance programs, as well as annual payments for gaming revenues. ” She added, “These benefits, coupled with increased revenues from Tribal operations and enterprises, evidence substantial economic benefits to the state, counties, townships and all of northern Wisconsin.”
“The mine is Walker’s only jobs plan?” Kebec inquired. Referring to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, wherein Wisconsin was ranked nearly dead last out of 50 states in terms of job creation she added, “He seems to be sending jobs away from the state at record numbers.”
Not mentioned in the article is that in 2010, then Governor-elect Walker turned away $810 million in federal stimulus money aimed at creating a high-speed train system for the 80-mile corridor between Milwaukee and Madison, losing out on thousands of potential jobs.
Also not mentioned is the fact that in January 2011, his administration rejected federal wind power grants totaling $1.8 million which threatened eleven projects state-wide. He continues to retard state job growth by rejecting federal funds available to expand Badgercare, as healthcare jobs continue to grow faster than they can be filled.
Todd Richmond has a history of mangling the truth when it comes to Native Americans. He is the same journalist who misrepresented the message of the State of the Tribes address by Jon Greendeer in 2012, claiming the Tribes would compromise on the mining issue. AP later printed a retraction.
At a Feburary 9 listening session in Ashland hosted by Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) and Rep. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland) 240 people registered against the new mining bill as opposed to 25 in favor. Native and non-native residents passionately rejected the jobs in the face of scientific, economic and historical evidence that mines will not benefit the area.
Richmond also insinuates that Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) “sought a meeting” with the Tribe. According to Wiggins, Tiffany’s letter was merely informing the tribe of the plan that Republicans and GTac already had in place, not requesting consultation and input as federal law requires.
The article frames the issue in thinly veiled racist terms as jobs vs. Native American treaty rights whereby the rights of tribes to sue the state for breaching federal law is blamed for blocking job creation. But in a recent interview with The Isthmus, Wiggins said that the first challenge to the law, should it pass, would not come from Bad River. “Environmental groups and citizens groups will first sue regarding violations of the Wisconsin Constitution and the public trust doctrine,” the article says.
Ashland City Council member Richard Ketring emphasizes the point: “This is not just an Indian thing. Most of the local and regional media have shown an unmistakable bias in not reporting the depth of the opposition to this Republican over reach.”
By “depth of opposition” Ketring is referring to the hundreds of citizens from Iron, Ashland, Bayfield and Washburn counties that have come out in opposition to the proposed legislation and any open pit mining of the Penokee Hills. These range from college professors and medical doctors to the mayors of three cities, farmers, small business owners, hunting and fishing enthusiasts, and people who have worked in the taconite mining industry in Minnesota.
Apparently, the story was published directly from the AP news feed without editorial oversight in many dozens if not hundreds of papers across the country. Editors of local papers contacted by WCMC say complaints should be sent directly to the Associated Press. The Wisconsin Bureau Chief is George Garties based in Chicago. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.