February 19, 2017 by Barbara With
Water protectors in the Penokee Hills in northern Wisconsin convened yesterday to celebrate the anniversary of stopping the construction of a 22-mile open-pit mountaintop removal iron ore mine in the watershed of Lake Superior.
In 2011, lawyers for mining company Gogebic Taconite (GTac) were allowed to re-write Wisconsin mining laws, which was passed by pro-mining Wisconsin legislators despite overwhelming opposition from the people. Also enacted was a law that forbade the public from entering certain public lands where GTac was drilling. Water protectors labeled this “The Forbidden Zone” and continued to snow shoe and hike into the designated area, hoping to receive citations and challenge the law in court. No tickets or arrests were ever made.
GTac abandon their project in 2015, after three years of trying to secure the permits to build the mine.
Yesterday’s annual patrol of the hills ended up on top of Joker’s Ridge, a high point near what had been the Harvest Education Learning Project, a resistance camp set up by Lac Courte Oreilles Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa to educate the public on the history of the area and the importance of protecting the watershed. HELP was dismantled after the mining company retreated, but water protectors continue to convene regularly to stay informed of upcoming threats to area water, including a Concentrated Animal Feed Operation (CAFO) being proposed in the Fish Creek watershed that flows directly into Lake Superior.
With highs in the upper 50s yesterday, snow shoers stripped down to tee-shirt as they scaled to the top of the ridge. After a 45-minute update on water issues, prayers, and fry bread (made fresh that morning by Melvin Gasper, former HELP caretaker), the water protectors descended the hills and gathered for a pot luck in Mellen.
As Edith Leoso, Bad River Historic Preservation Officer said at a news conference in 2014 at the gates to the Forbidden Zone, “Today, our water is dying. How long do we let them kill our water? That water we’re suppose to be protecting? Because it gives us life. It gives everything life.”