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Citizen Voices Matter: In the Penokee Hills

About John Patrick 

John Patrick is a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe and serves on the Tribes Eco Defense Committee. As a conservation warden for the Tribe, JP monitors the health of the water, land and wildlife on the Bad River reservation and the wild rice fields on the Kakagon Sloughs in Lake Superior. He has also served as a wild rice assistant for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission and has dedicated years to seeding, nurturing and harvesting wild rice and keeping the important crop free of disease and invasive species.

Why JP is involved with protecting the Penokee Hills

When John Patrick makes his daily rounds as a conservation warden to document the wildlife and growth cycle of wild rice growing in the Kakagon Sloughs, he is playing an essential role in the protection of an internationally important ecosystem.

But a proposed open-pit mine in the Penokee Hills in Iron and Ashland Counties of Wisconsin, located at the top of the Bad River Watershed, would be the source of pollution in the water and air of John Patrick’s Tribal land. The Penokees are the headwaters of a complex system of ground and surface water that spreads across the region; streams and wetlands feed into rivers that eventually feed into Lake Superior, the largest freshwater body in the world.

“What happens to the Penokee Hills would happen to my family and my people,” JP said. “But not just Tribal people. An open-pit iron mine would affect everyone living in our area.”

The Bad River Watershed, its wetlands, Lake Superior, and everything that is alive and growing in the region where JP lives and works face a range of threats. Climate change and invasive species, changes in water levels due to man-made dams, and non-Tribal overharvesting of wild rice all impact the water the Bad River Tribe works every day to protect. But nothing compares to the devastation sulfide pollution from open-pit mining has on downstream waters.

The Bad River Tribe negotiated treaties with the United States government between 1836 and 1854. Since then, the treaties reserved ceded territory rights to Tribal members to hunt, fish and gather the food that helps sustain the Tribe’s health and spiritual lives. Wild rice is used in Tribal ceremonies and festivals. The rice not only feeds the Bad River people, but the Kakagon Sloughs are protected because if their ecological importance. The Kakagon Sloughs are home to a fish hatchery, migrating birds, and are a protected habitat for other wildlife like mink and muskrat.

“I want people to understand that the United States treaties with federally recognized tribes, like Bad River, protect natural resources for everyone, including non-tribal people," said JP. “These treaties aren’t just history. They are agreements that keep working for all of us and the water rights we share.”