Local View: Band is anti-pollution, not anti-mining

Barbara Akre.jpg
Barbara Akre
We are part of The Trust Project.

Monitoring the June 10 Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board meeting, the League of Women Voters-Duluth Natural Resources Committee was shocked when the board, against strong positive recommendations from its own staff, voted unanimously to table a funding request from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The band sought $250,000 toward a $1.347 million project to provide a new water source and treatment for Mahnomen and Brookston, where the current water supply is contaminated (“ IRRR tables Fond du Lac funding over band's 'anti-mining' stances ,” June 11 ).

The production tax that funds IRRRB grants replaces property taxes on mining lands. IRRRB’s mission, vision, and goals promise to direct these monies toward “the well-being of all people in Northeastern Minnesota” and “enhance livable communities” with goals of “equity” and of ”growing stable, livable, and healthy communities.” A clean, drinkable water supply for two localities within the IRRRB service area certainly qualifies.

An original and oft-restated purpose of the IRRRB is to diversify the Northeastern Minnesota economy, not to promote mining alone. The taconite production tax recaptures wealth taken from our area by steel corporations which mine our land and provides these corporations with some security, in that production taxes, unlike property taxes, decrease during shutdowns or closures.

Natural resources such as iron ore are irreplaceable, and when they are gone, the profit-making corporations and the jobs they provide will go with them. Taconite taxes intend to help the region develop stable, diverse economies that can persist and even thrive when mining comes to an end. They provide — or should provide — a counter balance to, rather than exclusive support for, mining.

For its project, Fond du Lac will provide $834,243 via a U.S. Housing and Urban Development Indian Community Development Block Grant. That equates to about 62% of the project cost. Additional funding is to include $131,450 from both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indian Health Service, each accounting for about 10% of project costs. The IRRRB grant would provide less than 19% of the total project funding.


Fond du Lac actions cited by board members as “anti-mining” have instead supported clean water for natural resources such as wild rice and fish. The band challenged a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency permit for an inadequate Minntac waste basin. It also has opposed the proposed PolyMet copper-sulfide (not taconite) mine based on models that predict pollution of the St. Louis River, which runs through the Fond du Lac Reservation. The Fond du Lac Band is anti-pollution, not anti-mining.

We with the League of Women Voters-Duluth Natural Resources Committee firmly support the band’s right to work to protect natural resources as well as its right to share in the funding for drinkable water.

That tribal communities within the service area have been underserved by the IRRRB was acknowledged by board members at the June 10 meeting. Recent agency actions have encouraged tribal participation in funding opportunities, according to Commissioner Mark Phillips and Gov. Tim Walz, who issued an August 2019 executive order for exactly that type of partnering. In fact, the current IRRRB website posts a position for “Tribal Liaison” to strengthen “Native American tribal governments’ economic development and quality of life relative to services provided by IRRR.”

All of the ore extracted from our region was removed from land originally taken from Indian people by white settlers. To be able to share in the tax benefits of excavating that land is barely just. But it is less unjust than withholding those funds in response to the band’s stands against the pollution of those lands.

We are grateful that Commissioner Phillips made the call two weeks later to override his elected-official advisors and approve funding to the Fond Du Lac Band despite the board’s action to table (“ Commissioner approves Fond du Lac water grant ”, June 25th). Approval of this project will result in wise and fair use of IRRRB funds and improved health for those whose water is contaminated.

In these trying times, this outcome should be heartening to those who have lost confidence in the value of letting your opinion be known on an issue. There is no doubt that the numbers of people who weighed in on this issue had a positive impact on its eventual outcome. Hopefully, this will remind citizens to make their voices heard. It still works.

Barbara Akre of Duluth submitted this on behalf of the League of Women Voters-Duluth Natural Resources Committee.

What to read next
From the column: "The simple fact is that we know the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow. Furthermore, global conflict has made it almost impossible to source the raw material needed for storage. There is also continued opposition to domestic mining."
From the column: "The message that all Americans need to hear from health experts is a simple one: If you don’t use tobacco products now, don’t start. If you smoke, quitting is the best choice. If you don’t quit, change to a smoke-free alternative. This message is supported by science."
From the column: "It’s still early, but if we work together, it is now possible to see a path forward to restoring damaged waterways and safely mining Minnesota’s rich mineral resources."
From the column: "There are literally hundreds of groups that claim to be tribes without evidence. Once Congress short-circuits Interior’s recognition process for one of these illegitimate groups, the Pandora’s box will open."