The president of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community spoke in favor of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other efforts to restore the fishery on the Great Lakes, especially Lake Superior, at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing.
Chris Swartz told the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee that years of mining in the Upper Peninsula have affected the fisheries along the Keweenaw Peninsula.
“Mining waste, called stamp sand, was dumped along the eastern shoreline of Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Peninsula during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The stamp sands destroy the spawning reef by filling in the cobble substrate where the fish lay eggs,” Swartz testified. “As such, juvenile fish are not found in shoreline habitats that are covered in stamp sands along this reef.”
RELATED: DNR dredging buys time to protect Buffalo Reef in Keweenaw County
Swartz says stamp sands were dredged in Grand Traverse Harbor and adjacent beach area this summer but he says it is only a temporary fix before stamp sands refill the trough and encroach on the reef.
It has affected spawning areas along Buffalo Reef in Grand Traverse Bay. Swartz called it a direct threat to lake trout and whitefish on Lake Superior.
He says a task force is working to establish a long term solution and identify funding.
Swartz remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Good afternoon Chairman Sullivan, Ranking Member Peters and members of the sub-committee. My name is Chris Swartz and I am the President of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.
“The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community is located on the L’Anse Indian Reservation, Michigan’s largest and oldest reservation. We live on the shores Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Thank you very much for the opportunity to appear before you today.
“I am here today representing my tribe. But we are not the only federally recognized tribe that is deeply concerned about the protection of or natural resources so we may exercise our treaty rights. The threats to those rights, and intergovernmental co-management are important to all eleven tribes who are members of an organization called the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission.
“The Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission is an extremely important organization made up of eleven Ojibwa tribes that retain treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather in territory ceded to the United States in the mid-1800s. Vast portions of Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan were ceded in the Treaties of 1836 and 1842.
“These treaties were and are made between nations and are as relevant as the treaties with our Canadian neighbors. Over the years, Federal and state courts have affirmed our treaty-reserved rights to hunt, fish and gather off our reservations on these ceded lands around the Great lakes.
“These rights were not granted in the treaties without purpose, they were reserved by our ancestors to provide for the continuation of our way of life. The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, as well as all other tribes with reservations on the shores of the Great Lakes depended on a healthy and robust Great Lakes fishery for thousands of years.
“Today, we struggle to maintain this culturally significant practice to provide the extremely important food source we need. This sustenance resource is not only physical it is also spiritual, culturally important and medicinal.
“As I sit before you Mr. Chairman with my fellow witnesses from Alaska who are able to feed their communities while the fisheries in Alaska do so much to feed the world I have to be honest with you and the rest of the subcommittee.
“The truth is that after they clear cut our forests and mined copper, iron ore and other metals across our ceded territory to build Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and many other cities our ability to thrive as a fishing tribe was decimated. While those cities were being built our fish fed the occupants of many of those rapidly growing cities. Had that not taken place I assure you we would be competing with Alaska on the commercial fishing front.
“Today, as a result of mining activity in our ceded territory there is an ever-increasing direct threat to the fishery resource on Lake Superior, especially to lake trout and whitefish. A highly important whitefish and lake trout spawning reef near Grand Traverse harbor is being literally smothered by mining waste.
“This threat, if left unaddressed, would undermine the progress made in restoring a “self-sustaining” lake trout fishery in Lake Superior. In addition in failing to uphold our international agreement with Canada in these regards, this threat further undermines the ability of my tribe and others to sustain themselves through the harvest and sharing of fish. Mining waste called stamp sand was dumped along the eastern shore of Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Peninsula during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“The stamp sands destroy the spawning reef by filling in the cobble substrate where the fish lay eggs. The stamp sands also contain high levels of copper, mercury, arsenic and other contaminants toxic to aquatic life. As such, juvenile fish are not found in shoreline habitats that are covered in stamp sands along this reef.
“The Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission were pioneers in identifying this problem and have been more than just advocates in identifying solutions. My tribe and the other Great Lakes Ojibwa tribes will depend on the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission to work with many others to solve this problem and fulfill the obligation of the international treaties and agreements with Canada.
“We are taking action – federal, state and tribal managers have coordinated to take immediate steps to protect the viable portion of the reef. This past summer, dredging of stamp sands occurred in Grand Traverse Harbor and the adjacent beach area. In addition, funds were committed to dredge a trench, or trough, that has protected the reef, but which has now filled up with stamp sands.
“This dredging is estimated to provide 3-5 years of protection for the reef, but the trough will refill and stamp sands will again encroach upon the reef. A federal, state, tribal Task Force is now being established to explore longterm solutions to the problem and identify sources of funding. There is no one partner that can accomplish this work. A commitment and cooperation by all affected governments will be necessary.
“In closing, I respectfully request Congressional support of the intergovernmental task force created to develop locally driven solutions. Much of this effort comes from funding made available through Congressional appropriations for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative including and especially funding for the appropriate and legitimate role of tribes as full partners.”
“With this effort we can prevent the damage occurring at this spawning reef and actually make some semblance of progress in restoring the tremendous potential for the Great Lakes to become on par with Alaska in feeding an ever-growing world.”