My name is Robert Desjarlait and I’m from the Red Lake Anishinaabe Nation. I’m a co-founder of Protect Our Manoomin – an Anishinaabe grassroots group whose main mission is to educate and inform people about sulfide mining and its detrimental impact on our environment – particularly the impact on our manoomin, our wild rice.
Manoomin is also an environmental resource. Healthy stands of manoomin are the barometer of a healthy eco-system. But sulfates, which are a waste product of sulfide mining that enters into rivers and lakes, impair the growth of manoomin, and high concentrations of sulfates destroy manoomin. Macroinvertebrates, vegetation, flora, fish, and waterfowl are impacted. Additionally, sulfate-reducing bacteria transforms into methyl mercury that leads to mercury fish contamination. This loss of a vital eco-system affects all of us – Native and non-Native alike.
The issue of sulfide mining is interwoven in the web of corporatism. When we look at corporate greed, we see profits made at the expense of our environment. The profit margin does not go back into local communities. In the case of Polymet, the profits go back to a Canadian extractive corporation and to Glencore, an international corporation based in Switzerland. And the extracted copper will be exported to China. How is it that foreign corporations are able to come into Minnesota, extract copper, and ship it overseas?
The answer is the legal fiction called corporate personhood that enables corporations, e.g., copper extractive resource corporations, to influence our state legislature through unlimited campaign contributions. Through the corporatist agenda, we have state legislators who are amending or rewriting the laws for the benefit of extractive resource industries. These revisions of laws undermine existing laws like Minnesota’s Wild Rice/Sulfate Water Quality Standard and the EPA’s Clean Water Act. And the extractive resource corporations can do that because under Citizens United they have the status of “persons” with fundamental natural rights. Under that status, corporations, including foreign corporations, can make campaign expenditures, without limit, to candidates of their choice – in this case, pro-mining candidates that can further the sulfide mining agenda by passing laws that are favorable to copper extractive corporations like Polymet/Glencore, Kennecott/Rio Tinto, Twin Metals/Antofagasta, Cardero, and Teck . But the influence of corporate personhood goes beyond our state legislators. It extends to our congressional lawmakers in Washington. This is exampled by congressional lawmakers who are involved in efforts to weaken EPA standards for extractive resource corporations and thereby place our environment at risk for the benefit of economic gain.
The Anishinaabe people know about corporatism. It is part of our history. In the 1600s, the French came through here looking for copper deposits to exploit for economic gain. The Anishinaabe never revealed the locations of those deposits. In 1826, the U.S. negotiated a treaty at Fond du Lac. The treaty was largely to identify the various Anishinaabe nations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. There was no cessation of tribal land. However, Article 3 of that treaty contained a provision that the U.S. had the right to search for, and carry away, any metals or minerals from any part of Anishinaabe country. And further, the grant was not to affect the title of the land, nor the existing jurisdiction over it. Less than twenty years later, mining operations began at Isle Royale and the Upper Peninsula.
Later treaties weren’t just about the cessation of tribal lands to open for settlers and farmers. The heart of the treaties was about corporatism – the collusion of the government and extractive resource industries to exploit tribal ceded land for economic gain and profit.
What began with the treaties continues today under the banner of corporate personhood. And this time around, both Anishinaabe and Non-Native are affected. Private land owners are affected. Our environment is affected. Our rights are human beings are affected because the so-called personhood rights of corporations take precedence over our rights.
In closing, what we do today affects the generations that follow us. Corporate personhood isn’t concerned about the next generation that follows or future generations. Corporate personhood is about instant gratification for profits and economic gain. There is no concern about our nibi, our water, that is sacred and provides us with life. There is no concern about the impaired environment and the poisoned waters they will leave for their children and their children’s children. Indeed, if corporations are “persons,” then it can be said that their personhood personifies the dysfunctional behaviors of greed, bulliness, and intimidation to get what they want.
In the Anishinaabe mindset, we think in terms of the Seventh Generation. When we undertake any actions today, we consider how our actions will affect the Seventh Generation from now. It is that mindset that we all need to help guide us in our opposition to corporate personhood and sulfide mining. What we do today, we do for the generations that follow.
Mii sa go