Midwest Environmental Advocates is a nonprofit environmental law center that works for healthy water, air, land and government for this generation and the next. We believe that every citizen has the potential to make a difference.

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Citizen Voices Matter: In the Penokee Hills

About the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is an Ojibwe nation with reservation land on the coast of Lake Superior in Ashland County, Wisconsin. 

Why Bad River Tribal members are involved with protecting the Penokee Hills

In the Anishinabe tribal tradition, members of the Bad River Tribe think about land and water with much the same respect as they think of the elder members of their Tribe. Just like grandparents, the land and water provide a home, food and life for generations of their families.

But when members of the Bad River Tribe talk about the land of the Penokee Hills or Madeleine Island as a grandfather, and the Bad River Watershed and Lake Superior as a grandmother, they are sharing their respect and responsibility to care for the natural world that sustains the health and existence of the Tribe. That is why many Tribal members have dedicated their lives to saving the Penokee Hills from being destroyed by a proposed open-pit iron ore mine.

In 2013, Wisconsin state legislators passed a law that exempted the iron mining industry from environmental protections and greatly reduced people’s opportunities to voice their concerns about the impacts of iron mining on the health of their land and water. The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribal nation is located at the bottom of the Penokee Hills, between the proposed mine and Lake Superior.

Wild rice, a crop harvested by Bad River from the wetlands of the Kakagon Sloughs, is grown at the bottom of the complex watershed. For generations, these Lake Superior wetlands have been protected because of the commitment and treaty rights tribes like Bad River exercise every year. The Bad River Tribe negotiated treaties with the United States government in 1837, 1842 and 1854. Since then, the treaties reserved ceded territory rights, both on and off of their reservation land, for Tribal members to hunt, fish and harvest the food that helps sustain the Tribe’s health and spiritual lives.

While only a limited amount of wild rice harvested by tribal members is offered for sale each year, the watershed and lake are where another sustainable industry – fish hatcheries – replenish fish for food and sport for members of the tribe and the larger community. An open-pit mine would put all of these natural resources at risk of irreversible pollution.

The Bad River Tribe continues to work to get people to understand that the Penokees are the worst place for an open-pit mine. But they aren’t alone. Midwest Environmental Advocates is bringing our experience in state and federal environmental laws to the Bad River Tribe’s legal team. Please stand with us and share their voices today.

You can also learn more about Joe Rose, one of the elders featured in this film, on this Citizen Voices Matter page.