By Darren Thompson
MINNEAPOLIS—On July 14, the Lake Superior Chippewa Fond du Lac and Grand Portage bands filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), citing the Clean Water Act. The lawsuit argues that the EPA approved Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) recommendations to lower water quality standards, after tribes in Minnesota and the Chippewa Tribe of Minnesota spoke out against the decline in water quality.
“The way the tribes have come together in this area is really powerful,” April McCormick, secretary and treasurer of the Grand Portage Lake Superior Chippewa Band, told Native News Online. “Even in our consultation with the Minnesota Governor’s Office and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, we listed fourteen talking points and their response was that the state is moving forward.
In a joint news release from the Fond du Lac and Grand Portage bands, the lawsuit is said to be the first filed by a tribe or tribes against the EPA over changes to state water quality standards. “The elimination of numerical water quality standards for industrial and agricultural purposes in Minnesota will likely result in increased pollution of downstream waters that flow around and through band reserves, and waters that are important to the bands’ treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather in the ceded territories,” the tribes said in a press release.
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The tribes argue the new standards are less protective and pose a threat to northern Minnesota waters, which threaten animal and plant life, including wild rice. The changes eliminate a digital pollutant tracking system and instead rely on a “narrative summary”.
“Wild rice is sacred to the Anishinabe people,” Grand Portage Tribe President Robert Deschampe said in a statement. “It is incredible to us that the state and federal governments are making these changes without even considering the potential harm to wild rice waters. We will do everything we can to right this wrong.
McCormick shared that in consultation with the MPCA, wild rice and its protection were not considered, but soybeans, hay, strawberries and other plants considered commercial agricultural products were.
“Lower water quality will mean the insects the fish live on will be affected,” she said.
Last fall, Native News Online reported that Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, a registered citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, held an Executive Order 19-24 signing ceremony. The ordinance codifies consultation with tribal governments in Minnesota and requires state agencies to develop and maintain ongoing consultation with tribes on matters that have tribal implications.
The Minnesota governor’s office did not provide comment at press time.
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