A guest post from Regan Sonnabend of Spotlight on Sustainability:

As I arrived at the American Indian Center of Chicago for “Water at Risk: A Tribal Leaders Perspective” — a program about the dangers of proposed mining in the Midwest — on August 17, chairs were being added to the seating area to accommodate the impressive attendance. The event was moderated by Doug Kiel, PhD., Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern University and a citizen of the Oneida Nation. The featured speakers, Chairman Gary Besaw of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin and Chairman Dave Archambault II of the Standing Rock Tribe of Sioux had a critically important message:

The safety of our water is being threatened in locations across the United States.

Besaw opened with a presentation of the scope of the proposed Back 40 Mine along with an explanation of the shocking proximity of this project to the Menominee River, a major tributary feeding Lake Michigan. The proposed mine calls for a massive footprint which results in an almost incomprehensible amount of earth being displaced. The combination of the resulting mound of earth and the mine construction will result in sulfuric acid being created as a byproduct. You read that right — sulfuric acid, the same battery acid that prompts the use of HAZMAT gear.

“The mining proposal’s open pit mine, contingent upon the land swap, would disturb or destroy tribal archaeological resources, treaty-protected natural resources and Menominee River fisheries.” —Back 40 Mine handout

I was amazed when I learned that the Great Lakes represent approximately 20% of the world’s fresh surface water supply. The message is clear, the pollution of the Menominee River with sulfuric acid is not the Menominee Tribe’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem. The bottom line: our government’s shameful and sleazy maneuvering to permit this proposed project to continue must be met with determined resistance.

What can you do? Take action.

Taking action comes in many forms. Anyone reading this can take a few seconds to share this post to help spread awareness and garner needed support, especially if you live in Wisconsin or Michigan. Please call your congressional representatives to vehemently oppose this project. Even if you live in another state, make your voice heard that this project is utterly unacceptable. You can also join me in donating to this cause.

Besaw was followed by Chairman Dave Archambault II of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Archambault re-lived not only the Dakota Access Pipeline struggle but also the long history of the Sioux in protecting their land at all costs. He explained the emotional toll of that time — leading his people through an almost unimaginable struggle where they took the high road even with the effects of prolonged sleep deprivation. He described the atmosphere at the Standing Rock camp of 10,000 supporters as sacred. He, as many, focused on remaining peaceful and the outpouring of support, as opposed to the more radical approach many would have taken in that situation. He also took the opportunity to share suggestions for how to live in balance with the land. Archambault explained that the only thing preventing us from powering our country with renewable energy was the will to do so.

History lessons were an added bonus throughout the evening. Archambault’s slideshow pointed out the impact of rail, pipelines, the interstate highway system, and pipeline breaks have had on our country. Watching slide after slide of the web of infrastructure, I couldn’t help but feel constricted. It was powerful, to say the least. But the slide showing an ominous number of line breaks really made it hit home. It was a sad testament to what some would call progress, but it was the dose of reality that everyone in attendance came to hear.

Another takeaway from Archambault’s talk was to always be sure that donations are going to the intended recipient. He explained that the Standing Rock tribe received approximately $11,000,000 in donations, but more than $40,000,000 — almost four times more than they actually received — was donated to those posing as the tribe. Evidently, countless opportunistic fundraising sites cropped up as the Stand with Standing Rock campaign gained traction. Who would take advantage of a beleaguered tribe and donors alike, when there was likely little to give? The fact that happened and on such a scale is beyond disappointing.

The Menominee Tribe needs the same outpouring of support that Standing Rock received.

The Menominee Tribe needs the same outpouring of support that Standing Rock received. It’s what’s needed to successfully stop the proposed Back 40 mine. Thanks for reading, please share, and keep fighting the good fight! — Regan Sonnabend



The proposed Back 40 Mine has obtained three of four necessary permits for mining of gold, zinc, copper, silver and other minerals on Menominee Indian Tribe sacred land at the mouth of the Menominee River to Lake Michigan which forms the border between upper Michigan and Wisconsin. In previous comment periods, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) received over 2,000 comments of which 98% opposed the mine, yet three of four permits have been approved. The US diminished the tribe’s territory from 10 million acres to a mere 235,000 acres. The land area for this proposed mine has deep historical significance to the tribe — who dedicate their lives to protecting water sources and environmental stewardship for generations to come — but is now set to allow Aquila Resources Inc. (AQA) to destroy for resource extraction. Menominee burial mounds, places of worship, village sites and raised agricultural gardens are threatened by the development of the proposed mine. It’s a fact that this mine poses devastating environmental consequences. The project proposes to not only extract minerals but also process them onsite. The ‘tailings’ make up 90% of the extracted rock and are left on site. Miners use cyanide as one of the separating chemicals, and the leftover rock is mostly sulfide, which forms a toxic acid when mixed with air and water. The tailings would be monitored for 50 years, but need to be treated in perpetuity. Sulfide mines pose serious threats associated with leaching of sulfuric acid into freshwater rivers, streams, groundwater, and lakes — Lake Michigan as part of the Great Lakes representing 20% of the world’s fresh surface water and 95% of US surface water. The only remaining public comment period is for the Wetlands Permit which was applied for in January 2017. There are countless proposed mining sites throughout the region as increased exploration is associated with increased demand and increased (i.e. attractive) metal prices. Regulatory agencies aren’t adequately staffed to review proposals or manage new mines. —tSS


• Learn about the impact of mines — watch National Geographic’s From the Ashes.
• For more information on the Back 40 Mine from the Menominee tribe’s perspective, visit noback40.org.
• To support the tribe, visit the Menominee’s Go Fund Me site.
• Read what Aquila Resources Inc. has to say about the Back 40 Mine.
• A USA Today article about the brewing disagreement on the project.
• An extensive slideshow full of facts about the consequences of these types of mines by the National Wildlife Federation.

Deeper Questions

What are the uses for these extracted metals? Are they used in products we are routinely and increasing purchasing for our households? If we moved more towards a circular economy, could we use our existing supply of these resources rather than extracting more? —tSS

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