Home Wisconsin Ho-Chunk Nation opposes mining permit in Marathon County

Ho-Chunk Nation opposes mining permit in Marathon County

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The legislature of the Ho-Chunk nation has unanimously opposed a proposed copper and gold mining site near Wausau, citing potential environmental hazards and damage to sacred cultural sites.

Canadian mining company GreenLight Metals, which has an office in Medford, has already secured a permit from the state Department of Natural Resources to begin exploratory drilling at the Reef Deposit, which is estimated to hold more than 450,000 tons of gold reserves near the Dells of the Eau Claire County Park. The site is about 12 miles east of Wausau and about 11 miles northwest of the Potch-Chee-Nunk community, home to about 80 people on land owned by the Ho-Chunk-Nation. The company must also secure a permit from Marathon County, which the Ho-Chunk Nation opposes.

“This is the traditional area of the Ho-Chunk people. This is our homeland,” said Ryan Greendeer, public relations officer for the Ho-Chunk legislature.

A map provided by the Ho-Chunk Nation shows where the proposed mine site would be in relation to Ho-Chunk communities and natural resources.

Greendeer said a grassroots group of Ho-Chunk people in the area brought concerns to their elected tribal representatives, who voted 12-0 to approve a resolution opposing the mine at their July 12 session.

“There are several threats to the health of Mother Earth that arise from Green Light Metals Project which affect the abilities to practice our culture and other tribal cultures, such as: loss of traditional food resources and wildlife habitat, contamination of water and desecration of sacred sites; and … there are several threats to the natural resources and the health, safety, and welfare of citizens and the community that arise from the Green Light Metals Project, such as: lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater, wetlands, forests, aquatic and terrestrial wildlife,” the resolution reads in part.

Greendeer said Ho-Chunk leaders are concerned about the implications of what could be an open-pit sulfide mine in a pristine and fragile ecosystem, even though the Nation doesn’t own the land that will be mined.

The Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith, shown in a photo taken in 1997. The operation is the only sulfide mine permitted by the state in the last 40 years. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (CC-BY-ND).

“When corporations, mining companies do an action that is not exactly environmentally sound, they have a lot wider implications,” he said. If I spill 5,000 gallons of oil in my backyard, it’s not going to stay just in my backyard … When companies are extracting subsurface material that has to go somewhere. And in order for them to find what they’re looking for, they have to somehow process that material. So with that processing, and with the extracting, there’s going to be an obvious impact to the environment.”

In an email to Madison365, GreenLight Metals president and CEO Dan Colton said the company is committed to environmentally responsible mining.

“As we advance our efforts to explore potential critical mineral resources in the region, GreenLight Metals is committed to being a strong, responsive community partner, dedicated to environmentally-sound mining – a priority we repeatedly emphasize in our meetings with the public and elected officials in the region,” he wrote. “The Reef Deposit has the potential to help meet the growing need for clean energy metals that power our nation’s green economy and as we shared earlier this week at a public meeting in Wausau, GreenLight looks forward to helping Wisconsin become a leader in domestic development of our critical minerals.”

Marathon County Board Metal Mining Committee members did not respond to requests for comment.

The mining operation, which would still likely be years away even if the exploratory drilling permit is granted, could be the first such operation to open in Wisconsin since the legislature overturned a metal mining moratorium in 2017.

Greendeer said the Nation is not opposed to mining in general, but has concerns about this particular project.

“We’re not opposed to responsible development, but there needs to be a semblance of corporate responsibility and environmental ethics,” he said.