Saturday, February 25, 2012

On L'Anse Bay - Inspiring Land, Inspiring Students!

Wow! What an amazing time at L'Anse Junior High with Mr. Anderson's classes. The seventh and eighth grades were great at sharing their ideas and questions - I had a truly awesome time. Miigwech/thanks for your contributions!

Home to the nation of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, this land has been a special place for people for a very long time. As we talk about in the presentation, the Anishinaabe returned to the Great Lakes some 500-1000 years ago and intermarried with the nation that had been living in the Upper Peninsula for some 6000 years. The Anishinaabe, then, have a history of at least 6000 years in the U.P. And, according to some Anishinaabe stories, the nation may have been here before the glaciers came (and, of course, had to leave as the land became covered in ice).

The area has also long been a touchstone for my family. When I was younger, we'd travel from our home in Eagle River, Wisconsin to visit the L'Anse Bay and Canyon Falls. After graduating from college, I returned to the U.P. to live in Baraga County and was a substitute teacher in L'Anse and Arvon - so old stomping grounds for me.

One of the things I miss most about living in Baraga County are the wolves. Where I live now, although it's out in the woods, I've only once in the years I've been here heard a wolf. In Watton, I heard and saw wolves on a regular basis. Talking with the students in Mr. Anderson's classes brought me home to that again as I'd forgotten how much wolves are a part of people's lives in Baraga County - exciting stories of sitings, sad stories of pets lost... Where I used to live there was a wolf's trail that ran right across the road from our home. I remember following the prints in the snow once. I miss that very much.

So many stories come to mind of this area. Mount Arvon - Michigan's highest point. Did you know that the mine tailings pile from the Tilden/Empire iron mines once rivaled Mount Arvon for being the highest point in Michigan?! A bit embarrassing for Cleveland Cliffs, the company that owns those mines, or so I hear. They trimmed their tailings down a bit....and deposited them elsewhere. But Mount Arvon still stands tall. It's a beautiful landmark that you can see from the western side of the Bay.

The area has other beautiful landmarks as well. Mount Curwood, for example. Although I've never been there myself, my dad, in working as on a logging job, gave me a photo of when he reached the summit.

Coming around L'Anse Bay (L'Anse is French for "the bay"), I remember watching to see what bird life I'd see that day. Yesterday we were honored to see miigizi (the bald eagle). One of my most vivid memories of the Bay is seeing a pair of beautiful swans...but they were worrying something around their neck. Thinking they had gotten into some plastic trash (like 6-pack rings), I drove to the DNR and told them there were some birds in distress. They smiled and said it was nothing to worry about because it wasn't a pop ring around their neck, it was a DNR number tag - as if that made a difference. They said if I drove back and could read the number, they'd tell me all about that particular bird. Yeah, right. It didn't matter, obviously, that the birds didn't want that band around their neck - what mattered was they were curiousities whose lives could be observed by all. However you look at it, those swans were wearing a tether. In my book, this is not respecting our relatives.

According to Karl Bohnak's "Upper Peninsula Alamanac," L'Anse Bay was once one of the largest cargo ports in the world back at the end of the 1800s. Today, looking at its peaceful waters, its surrounding hillsides, one might never know that. I take hope from this for the Marquette area - maybe Marquette can one day let go of its industrial past....and, specifically, get rid of the looming ugly ore dock that stands as an icon of what happened to the area after the treaty was signed in 1842 between Anishinaabe nations and the U.S. When taking a class to the area around the iron mine in Palmer, I once had a student of mine from Keweenaw Bay Indian Community look at the devastation there and say, "And this was our land."

So much to say about L'Anse. And a place facing interesting choices these days too. With the Kennecott mine opening up north of L'Anse/Marquette and potential mines surrounding the town, this community is mulling over its future. Some see mining as a means to obtaining a decent income for their families. The problem, though, is that a mining economy is not a sustainble economy. Yes, it can provide good income for a a small group of people for a few years. And that's good. However, when it's done, what's left? What condition is the land left in for your children, your grandchildren? This isn't ivory tower gobbledygook. The land is the base. If you can't fish it, if you can't hunt it, if you can't go berrying on it - what can you do? You stick future generations in a cycle of poverty and ill health is what you do, deprived of a healthy landscape from which to make a decent living.

I know poverty. My mother's immediate family were homemakers and independent stone/brick masons. Poverty for them has been a lifelong thing. When she was growing up they had no running water or electricity, no phone for even longer - and all perfectly happy without all that - but it is hard to feed your family on a small income.

Poverty is how I spent much of my growing up years too. I watched my mom struggle as a secretary, a cashier, a temp worker, working at poverty wages. I know a good income is necessary for families in this cash economy. But mining offers a good income for some by taking away from everyone else - mining destroys the very land that provides a safety net (think hunting, fishing, berrying) for those who don't have a good income.

There are more possibilities for a good income that come from sources other than mining. For example, Walt Bresette from northern Wisconsin was well-known for his vision, had worked out an inspired economic plan for the northwoods - he saw the potential of this area to become a truly green economy with opportunities for entrepreneurs and jobs based on
- restoring the land (think Civilian Conservation Corps projects but privately run)
- producing green products (small-scale energy projects, old-fashioned farming...)
- orchards
- tourism
- education (perhaps based on the land, learning the old ways of living)
- health (nursing, doctors, perhaps health facilities based on the land)

So many possibilities! Do we really have to destroy our base with mining in order to provide jobs for a few for a few years? What about the rest of us who are not hired by the mines? Will those who want the mines for their own benefit forsake the rest of us? I hope not.

When talking about the possibility of acid mind drainage from a metallic sulfide mine, one of Mr. Anderson's students asked yesterday, "Why would anyone do anything that might get sulfuric acid in a river?" Her classmates replied:

"Because they're not fishermen."

"Because they're don't know anything."

"Because they don't care about the rest of the community."

Some food for thought from our young adults. May their wisdom inspire the rest of the world!

1 comment:

  1. I saw the article in the paper on your visit to L'Anse Junior High, and was excited for the young people who were able to spend some time with you. I am also concerned about the possibility of future mines in Michigan. I grew up near Calumet, and the destruction from the mines that were there 100 years ago is still apparent. (The home I grew up in has a large rock pile in the backyard.) I could use a source of income as much as the next person, but I hope we as a community can come up with better solutions! Thank you.