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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Approximately 300 Gather to Celebrate Menominee River

Issue Date: July 22, 2021

Stephenson Island was packed on July 16th in honor of the Menominee River. The proposed Back 40 Mine project has been seen as a threat to the Menominee River for almost 20 years since the project was first proposed in 2003. Born from the desire to protect the Menominee River's clean drinking water and sacred indigenous sites, the Coalition to Save the Menominee River has been working steadily to promote awareness about the dangerous effects of the mine. The July 16th gathering included speeches from experienced individuals, live music, a raffle, and much more to celebrate this special river.

Characters present at this get-together ranged from certified doctors, local residents, Native Americans of the Menominee Tribe, press representatives from places such as Lansing, Mi and Madison, Wi, political artists, and different people of varying backgrounds. Political party lines had no place here and there was no age restriction. A joyful experience all around, it was inspiring for many of the attendees to see other people so passionate about saving the river from pollution in the Great Lakes area.

Many different people made art and signs for the event and for the cause in general. In protest of the proposed sulfide mine, one Darlene (Winter) Tritt made a fish-shaped metal piece bearing a t-shirt that says â€CLEAN WATER MATTERS.†She enjoys making 3D art out of materials that she comes across in support of the Coalition to Save the Menominee River. Another woman, Susan Simensky Bietila is a political artist from Milwaukee who came to Stephenson Island with her art including expertly painted paintings of fish mounted on sticks (to hold in the parades and bridge walk), banners, and her nonfiction comics which she writes and draws about current events.

It's important to note that the threat of sulfide mining creates sulfuric acid and poses the possibility of releasing metals into nearby water sources. Susan Simensky Bietila and another speaker, Dr. Al Gedicks were both part of the successful movement against the Crandon mine. Dr. Gedicks said, â€They [Aquila] are going to mine hundreds of millions of waste rock that contains sulfide minerals that become acidic when exposed to air and water and become acid mine drainage, releasing 26 different heavy metals including mercury, arsenic, and cyanide into the local environment.†Various signs addressed this issue including some that said, â€DON'T FLINT OUR WATER†or â€SAVE OUR RIVERâ€.

The concern doesn't stop there, though. Many folks have completely forgotten the Indigenous tribes of the area who hold the sacred Menominee River in their hearts. Those Native Americans of the Menominee Nation informed the crowd of their deeply hallowed beliefs and traditions concerning the Menominee River. David Grignon, a member of the Menominee Tribe and a Tribal Historic Preservation Officer gave a speech that included the origin story of their people. Grignon said, â€Thousands of years ago it was there that the ancestral bear came out of the ground. The creator saw him, turned him into human form. He was the first Menominee. As the bear didn't want to be alone, he saw the eagle flying above. He said, â€Brother eagle, come down and walk with me.' The eagle descended and the creator transformed him into human form also. The second Menominee. As the two walked up the Menominee River, they encountered a moose, wolf, and crane. The five major clans of our people. The Menominees have lived here, like I said, for thousands of years.†This river means so much more to those of the native tribe than it ever would for most other residents. David Grignon is of the Wolf tribe and stressed the cultural importance of the village sites, burial grounds, ceremonial sites, and dance rings to the Menominees. Placing a mine on this river would be one of the most irreverent and contemptuous actions taken against the tribe after hundreds upon hundreds of years of oppression.

Rachel Fernandez is the English name of an indigenous woman of the Menominee tribe, and Menominee Tribal Legislator, gave an introduction to the Water Blessing Ceremony that was to be performed by the women of the tribe present. Fernandez started off by stating her spiritual name, â€Namaewkukiw†or â€Sturgeon Womanâ€. In conjunction with Grignon, Fernandez gave her important feminine perspective of why water is so important to everyone, not just the tribe. Fernandez said, â€it is where we started, when we were in our mother. We were in that water with our mother for those nine months. It's important to make that connection always throughout our lives, how important that water is to our life, our livelihood.†Imagine the fury of these people when they remember what Aquila wants to mine for. As Dr. Gedicks states, â€They are going after MICROSCOPIC quantities of gold. The amount of gold in a ton of rock that will be excavated from this mine is 5 grams per ton. Five grams. You can't fill the bottom of the bottom of a coffee cup with five grams it's so small.†The greed of this corporation is attempting to match the will of a people who refuse to give up. In the eyes of the Coalition, the consequences of this mine greatly outweigh the advantages it claims to bring.

To celebrate the water of the Menominee River, five generations of women and girls performed the Water Blessing Ceremony where a heartfelt display of spiritual singing took place. No pictures were allowed out of respect for the ritual, which everyone present obeyed. Their container of choice to hold the water were little copper vessels. Their reasoning for this? Copper is of the Earth and therefore provides the purest water drinking experience.

Dr. Gedicks then took center stage to provide his expertise on the Aquila Mining project. One of the most memorable things he expressed was, â€This Aquila Mining Corporation- Aquila Exploration Company - they don't have the expertise to mine. They've never done a mine anywhere in the world! This is an experiment for them, but we're not going to allow them to experiment on the clean water that we depend on.†Dr. Gedicks continued to speak about how Aquila has poured $100 million into this project and just this January lost all of their permits for the Back 40 Mine. Against the advisement of their own scientific staff, Aquila continued this mining project which they cannot even make a reality unless they destroy River Road, a road going through the potential mining site. From proving Aquila to be inept at mining in general to showing just how many roadblocks are in place to stop this mine, continuing on with it would not be reasonable.

Musical performances lightened up the mood when a band of locals came together to play crowd favorite tunes such as â€This Land is Your Land†by Woody Guthrie along with a capella singing from Mary Hanson of Peshtigo. The song choice of â€This Land is Your Land†was very reminiscent of a sentiment Rachel Fernandez, or NamÄÄwk…kiw (Sturgeon Woman), left the sea of people with. NetÄÄnawemÄkenak. This is the Menominee word for â€all my relatives†or â€all my relationâ€. It reminds us that we are not better than one another, and makes us recall that we are all connected from our fellow people to the animals, wildlife, and water. Fernandez emphasized the importance that we care for Mother Earth as she has taken care of us.

The raffle was a trio of three handbuilt guitars courtesy of Warren McKenny of Marinette. Dale Burie called a young boy named George from the crowd to be a neutral party in picking the winner who turned out to be Lucia Oliveras! The craftsmanship of the guitars was something to be witnessed and truly impressed all those present.

And with that, it was time to take a final trek of the day across the bridge spanning the Menominee River. An awe-inspiring sight undoubtedly, a huge throng of people took up signs protesting the polluting of the Menominee River and followed the lead of the Menominee Nation themselves across the bridge. Cars passing by honked in support of the cause as the group stretched the distance to the Ogden Club in Menominee where the usual Friday night gathering of the Coalition to Save the Menominee River takes place.

Ultimately, these people proved that any normal David does have a chance to stand up against threats of seemingly Goliath proportions. Most certainly, the beloved Menominee River is well protected.


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