Native Americans Say Michigan DNR’s Land Transfer To Mining Company Violates 1836 Treaty, Judge Denies Their Injunction

The Michigan Department of National Resources (DNR) announced the sale of public land in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula after a judge dismissed an injunction by a group of Native American tribes which cited the sale violated an 1836 treaty. The sale of the land was called “the largest single public land deal in Michigan history,” by the Detroit Free Press. The sale of the land to Graymont Mining, a Canadian company, has been at the center of debate for about a year and a half. The land sits in a pristine, rural area of the U.P. The Michigan DNR officials say it is difficult to find a balance because the DNR responsibilities include protecting natural resources and allowing their beneficial use.

The group of Native American tribes, which included the Mackinac Bands of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians, the Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians, say that the sale is unconstitutional. An injunction was filed by Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians citizen Dr. Martin Reinhardt and White Earth Nation citizen Dr. Phil Bellfy.

“You can get short term economic gains through these types of actions, but it will have severe repercussions for future generations. Our Anishinaabe ancestors warned us about this path of destruction, and it is up to us to stop it before it is too late,” Reinhard said.

Michigan DNR director Keith Creagh feels that the sale of the lands to the Canadian mining company is in the best interest of the people of the State of Michigan.

“This project balances the public interest in natural resources and economic development in the Upper Peninsula,” Creagh said, according to a press release which cited an extensive research process. “By moving forward with this transaction, we are providing the opportunity for the development of a limestone mine in an area that has a long history of mining, and we are also ensuring that recreational opportunities continue on these lands.”

Many other parties interested in the ecological concerns of the project stepped forward, including a group called Save the Wild U.P., which claimed that the public was not allowed the normal 30-day comment period on the project, because Graymont Mining was allowed by the State of Michigan to submit the final revisions on the company’s application less than two weeks before the state’s decision. Save the Wild U.P. cited many reasons it opposed the mining project, including the fact that the sale of the public land to the Canadian mining company would violate the 1836 treaty rights of Native American tribes, the group says.

The State of Michigan stands to gain over $4.5 million from the sale of the pristine land, according to the Detroit Free Press. The state also is set to earn a 30-cent royalty on every ton of limestone or dolomite that is mined by the Canadian company. The project’s supporters say that the area is in desperate need of jobs.

“The young people deserve it,” U.P. resident Jeff Dishaw said, according to the Free Press. “Myself, I have a job. But the young people in this community deserve the opportunity to stay and earn a middle-class living.”

“We need the jobs,” Hendricks Township Supervisor Russell Nelson said. “Our township has about 160 residents over 80 square miles. We have one little convenience store and a couple of restaurants.”

While the townspeople need jobs and Michigan could use the economic boost, according to Indian Country Today Media Network, the almost two-century-year-old treaty still needs to be honored. In 1836, representatives of the Ottawa and Chippewa tribes ceded millions of acres in what became the State of Michigan the following year. The Thirteen Article of the 1836 Treaty of Washington granted the Anishinaabe, indigenous people of the Great Lakes, the right to hunt and fish on the land. Court documents showed that the land was part of the 1836 Treaty of Washington and was protected by the 2007 Inland Consent Decree.

According to Chief U.S. District Judge Paul L. Maloney, while the Native American plaintiffs do have rights to the land because of the treaty, they failed to demonstrate how they planned to exercise their rights to use the land, and therefore the judge decided that they couldn’t show a risk of injury from the sale of the protected lands to the Canadian mining company, according to the Blue Nation Review. It was the second attempt to stop the sale of the land. A month before, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker also denied the group of Native Americans a temporary restraining order.

“Plaintiffs have not established that immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage will result to them before a hearing can be held on this matter,” Judge Maloney said.

The judge said that the sale could still be reversed by court order, but it is unlikely to happen. The judge denied their request but did order a hearing before a Court’s Magistrate to determine if a preliminary injunction should be granted, according to a press release from Idle No More.

“Despite media reports, this case is far from over. The judge did dismiss our 2nd request for a Temporary Restraining Order, but he did order a Hearing, now set for Wednesday, April 29, 2015, at 3:00 p.m., 174 Federal Building, 410 W. Michigan Ave., Kalamazoo, MI 49007.”

Idle No More is a group of Native Americans fighting to enforce Article 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in the northern Great Lakes region, and they say that the Michigan DNR’s decision to sell the public land to the Canadian mining company violates their rights as Indigenous People as recognized by the United Nations, their Constitutional rights, and their rights promised to them by the 1836 Treaty of Washington and the 2007 Inland Consent Decree.

[Photo of Graymont proposal area via Save the Wild U.P.]