The Fight for Water & Treaty Rights in the Great Lakes




  1. There are at least 13 mining operations in the upper Great Lakes region. Most are on land that should be protected by existing treaties between indigenous nations and the U.S. government. This number doesn’t include additional sites in Canada. Taconite, copper and nickel are the primary targets of mining in the upper Great Lakes region. See the Map.
  2. There are at least 31 exploration sites in the upper Great Lakes region. Mining operations are permitted individually according to each state’s regulations. This process doesn’t account for the cumulative effect that multiple projects have on the region.
  3. Many lower grade mineral deposits are located in sulfide ore bodies. When this waste rock is brought to the surface it reacts with air and water to produce sulfuric acid. Any mis-steps in the handling of this waste can result in contamination of surrounding waters with acid mine drainage and may include other toxic metals such as arsenic, mercury and selenium. This can occur in copper mining as well as taconite mining. The water-rich environment of the Great Lakes region increases this risk.
  4. Many existing regulations are not effectively enforced. Violators are fined and allowed to continue operating on modified permits. Click here to read the Wisconsin Sierra Club report on taconite mining’s environmental track record.
  5. The subsistence lifestyles of many Native American and rural people puts them at greater risk from exposure to mining pollutants that contaminate water, wild rice and other plant life, fish and game.
  6. The economic arguments in favor of mining are weak. Many iron range towns are losing population and have average household incomes far below their state’s average.

Recommended Reading

“Iron Mining in the Lake Superior Basin”, Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission

“Sulfide Mining”, Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission

“United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, the United Nations, March, 2008.


New Bill Would Update 1872 Law

The Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act of 2015 was introduced on February 13th by House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-3). The bill would rewrite the 1872 law governing the mining of gold, copper, uranium and other hardrock minerals on federally managed lands. Read the full Earthworks article at,

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Minnesota’s Mining Not an Economic Panacea

“Mining could be a huge economic boost for the state, say proponents of an iron ore mine in northwestern Wisconsin. But it hasn’t been a cure-all for the big iron ranges of Minnesota and Michigan.” Read the full article by Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel writer, Lee Bergquist here.

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Mine Dewatering and Groundwater Levels

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More than Dusty Historical Documents: Treaty Rights in the Penokee Hills

An excerpt from an excellent article by Ron Seely on treaty rights and the proposed GTAC project. Read the full article here. THE PENOKEE RANGE – The fight over the fate of a massive iron ore mine has moved this summer from the state Capitol in Madison to the forests of northwestern Wisconsin and the green, undulating ridges along which

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The General Mining Act of 1872

The General Mining Act of 1872 is a U.S. federal law that governs mining on federal public lands. It gives hard-rock mining precedence over other uses of federal land regardless of the consequences. The law set the price per acre of land claimed at $2.50-$5.00 per acre and hasn’t changed since. Attempts were made to reform the law in 2007

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