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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

 11:26 AM 

Tribal leader concerned about proposed mining operation

Michael Wiggins Jr. today urged legislators to find a balance between economic development and environmental stewardship in the annual State of the Tribes address.

“Our lands and water define who we are as Ojibwe people,” Wiggins told lawmakers.

Wiggins, chairman of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, voiced concerns about a proposed taconite mine in Ashland County. The proposed mine would be located just south of his tribe's reservation.

Wiggins told reporters following the address that he has concerns about sulfide components that are a byproduct of the mining process. He fears that the mine will affect the surface and groundwater for the tribe, calling the impacts potentially catastrophic.

"When I'm talking through the filter of negative impacts to the water my people drink and are going to drink for the next 300 or 500 years, it's hard to talk about it in terms of economic opportunity," Wiggins said. "There's lots of other opportunity out there other than mining."

Wiggins said he found it coincidental that a front page story appeared in Wisconsin State Journal touting the economic benefits of the mine, the same day the tribes address the Legislature.

"It's an indicator that there's a lot of support and a coordinated effort that's pushing mining initiatives," he said.

In his address, Wiggins said the tribes face the same challenges the state is facing -- budget deficits, economic development, rising health and energy costs.

Wiggins said tribes are among the largest, if not the largest, employers in their respective counties, and estimated that as many as 100,000 jobs in Wisconsin are positively impacted by tribal enterprise.

He commended the state on working with tribes on issues like health care and said he hopes to keep the lines of communication open.

--By Greg Bump


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