In early December, the Duluth City Council unanimously passed a resolution "to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's effort to protect sacred tribal lands and the Missouri River," noting that "the citizens of Duluth share an interest in protecting water resources and affirming the contribution and cultural resources of Native Americans."
For a city that has, at times, openly struggled with racism, the unanimous passage of this resolution signified a new beginning and was warmly received by the Native American communities in Duluth and throughout Minnesota.
On behalf of the more than 41,000 members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe - including the individual sovereign bands of Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs and White Earth - I offer a belated Chi Miigwech (thank you) to the Duluth City Council and especially to the two cosponsors of the resolution, Councilors Gary Anderson and Em Westerlund.
Recently, Councilors Anderson and Westerlund were unfairly targeted by what appeared to be a coordinated public-relations campaign characterizing the resolution and its sponsors as anti-jobs, anti-Enbridge, and anti-Duluth, none of which was true. The intimidation campaign seemed a thinly veiled attempt to silence future critics of Enbridge's Line 3, which, if approved, would increase crude oil flow through the Twin Ports from 390,000 barrels per day to 760,000 with an expansion capacity of up to 915,000.
One notable letter was from David Ross of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. Published in the Chamber's Duluthian magazine and in the Duluth Budgeteer under the same headline, "City Council disrupting our Twin Ports," the piece made us sit up and take notice when it stated, "We have been bequeathed this honor of stewardship by the Ojibway people who named the lake, Gitche Gumee, the shining big-sea-water."
We with the six member bands that comprise the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe would like to assure Ross that we haven't bequeathed anything, as we are very much still alive. Moreover, the wording implied that decisions about environmental stewardship over the lake should rest solely with non-Natives, ignoring the mandate for environmental justice.
Beyond that overarching mandate, the fact is that tribes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota ceded or granted lands to the United States through regional treaties with the United States, in most cases retaining hunting, fishing and gathering rights. These treaty-reserved rights to hunt, fish, and gather require that natural foods - the fish, game and plants that are the subject of our treaty rights - be consumable and that the lands and waters they inhabit be protected from pollutants produced by the industries that are using ceded lands for economic purposes.
We have legal rights, upheld by the courts, to co-manage these resources. We have an equal voice in what happens to them. This voice of environmental stewardship and protection benefits not only the tribes but all citizens of Minnesota and the United States.
We take an active role in preserving and protecting the earth, the air, and the water. Several Great Lakes tribes partner with state and federal agencies as co-managers of Lake Superior, as well as other lands and resources.
Grand Portage, Bois Forte, and Fond du Lac, for example, co-manage 5 million acres in Northeastern Minnesota along with the state. Tribes employ some of the best fisheries biologists in the nation and utilize sophisticated equipment and laboratory technology to ensure that not just Lake Superior, but area rivers, streams, aquifers, and lands, too, are protected for all Minnesotans.
The tribes agree that job protection and creation are important. After all, Indian tribes today are among the most significant economic engines in the region. Several regional Indian tribes have been long-time members of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce through the businesses they own and operate. Tribes are collectively the 14th-largest employer in the state; a majority of those jobs are in nonmetro Minnesota.
But business benefit does not supersede environmental stewardship. One need only remember the asbestos-like water contamination that resulted from Reserve Mining dumping waste rock tailings into Lake Superior into the 1980s - a procedure permitted and approved by the state that proved to be shortsighted and catastrophic for the lake. This was not just an environmental threat; it was a direct threat to human health.
Tribes do not make decisions based on short-term gain; we consider how our decisions will impact our people for seven generations. Those who risk polluting our water should do the same. We hope that all people - not just Native people - can agree that seven generations from now, we will all still need clean water.
Job creation is important. But so is respecting the earth, the water, the air, and those who protect them.
Kevin Dupuis of the Fond du Lac Reservation is president of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. This commentary was supported and co-signed by the leaders of the Bois Forte, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs and White Earth Bands.