TESTIMONY ON BEHALF OF THE WHITE EARTH LAND RECOVERY PROJECT REGARDING THE MODIFICATION OF THE WILD RICE SULFATE STANDARD IN THE STATE OF MINNESOTA
Wild rice or Manoomin is a sacred food of great cultural, nutritional and economic significance to the Anishinaabeg or Ojibwe people of Minnesota and throughout the Great Lakes region. Manoomin is central to our spiritual teachings, and, as well has provided for our people for a millennium.
Wild rice is the only treaty protected grain in North America, and is explicitly mentioned in treaties with the US government, including the l837, l854 treaties, and is essential in subsequent treaty determinations.
Wild rice only grows in this region, and in all studies over the past fifty years, requires a pristine lake and water quality standard to be maintained. In a long set of studies, it was determined that “sulfate concentrations above this level ( l0 mg/L) are detrimental to the growth of wild rice.” Some 90% of the areas in Minnesota in which wild rice was found had waters with less than l0 ppm and that there were “no large and important natural and self perpetuating wild rice stands in Minnesota where the sulfate ion content exceeded l0 ppm”. From what we understand, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will establish new rules governing maximum sulfate levels in wild rice waters, but until the new rules are adopted, the bill would change the current 10 milligrams per liter maximum to 250 milligrams. This will not allow for the continuation of our wild rice.
The only reason this forty year standard is being challenged at this point, is to allow for the expansion of mining operations in areas where there are wild rice lakes and beds. This is, in particular true, with the proposals for the proposed Polymet Mine, near Ely, Minnesota, an area well within the l854 treaty of the Anishinaabe, and thus protected as a treaty right for the Ojibwe people. In numerous occasions over the past several years, the Ojibwe have voiced opposition to these regulatory changes.
Although mining interests and the Minnesota Chambers of Commerce filed a lawsuit in December of 2010 to block enforcement of the Minnesota water quality standard that prevents high levels of sulfate pollution in waters with wild rice, we support the intervention by WaterLegacy and other advocates and wish to insure that our wild rice is protected. There is no place where wild rice and mining tailings or mining discharge exist in the state of Minnesota, and there has been a significant loss, already of valuable wild rice beds and lakes in our region.
The change in the standard would be to the detriment of wild rice, the Anishinaabe and all Minnesotans. The change in the standard would be a violation of the treaty guaranteed protection of the wild rice of this region- Anishinaabe Akiing.