More than 400 people attended a public hearing Tuesday in a Stephenson, Michigan high school to testify about a proposed open pit sulfide mine in the Upper Peninsula.
Toronto-based Aquila Resources is seeking a wetlands permit from the state of Michigan to dig the open pit mine near the banks of the Menominee River. If approved by the state of Michigan, the zinc and gold mine would be located near the banks of the Menominee River, which Native Americans say is sacred ground.
Most attendees spoke against the controversial mine, known as the "Back Forty" mine project. Many of those opposed were members of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin who say the mine would disturb sacred sites, including burial mounds, dance circles and other culturally significant sites.
While the mine would be on the Michigan side of the border, tribal members say the mine would disturb the source of the river, a place where the tribe says it originated.
Aquila spokeswoman Chantae Lessard said Tuesday at the hearing that the company would work with the tribe to identify and protect any culturally significant or sacred sites near the Back Forty mine.
She said Aquila has done archeological surveys of the area and haven’t, as of yet, uncovered anything of historical significance. If any human remains or evidence of Menominee settlements are found, she said the company will halt work until the area is investigated.
But Lessard also said the company chose the site because of its potential to produce zinc, gold, lead and silver.
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"So a mine is found where the minerals are," Lessard said. "So we don't get to choose where a mine is, and you can't pick up a mine and move it. They're in the earth where they have been found."
Tribal member Guy Reiter asked the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which held the hearing, to deny the permit. He said his tribe will continue to fight against the mine.
"You've done everything you possibly could to break our will, but I'm telling you our will will not be broken," Reiter said. "We as Menominee people will stand in all adversity, and we'll stand in pride and dignity, and we'll stand on the shoulders of our ancestors that Aquila wants to dig up out of the ground."
Representatives from other Wisconsin tribes — Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans, the Oneida Tribe of Indians, Mole Lake band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the Ho-Chunk Nation — also spoke against the mine.
A few Back Forty mine supporters said Tuesday the project will be good for the area's economy.
The Menominee Tribe filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the mine, contending the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, not the state of Michigan, have authority over the permit process.
The meeting was scheduled to last from 6 to 10 p.m.