Joint Press Release: Batchewana First Nation; Bay Mills Indian Community; Garden River First Nation; Sault Ste. Marie Tribe Of Chippewa Indians
By David Helwig
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Tribes and First Nations form alliance for a Clean St. Marys River
Bawating, North America – Following the historic signing of the St. Marys River Treaty in November, 2006, two Canadian First Nations and two Native American Tribes have formed a new alliance that will work to protect the ecosystem of the St. Marys River.
The Anishinabeg Joint Commission had its first meeting on February 12, 2007 in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and promises to rekindle ties of family and culture that were inhibited by the imposition of an international border through Ojibwa territory.
We are one people separated by a border.Many years of pollution, diversion of water, destruction of fish and wildlife habitat and the introduction of invasive species such as the sea lamprey, have damaged the St. Marys River which has been the lifeblood of the Anishinabe nations on both sides of the river for generations beyond count.
The joint commission will work to ensure that the governments of Canada and the United States follow through on their promises to protect and restore the ecosystem of the St. Marys River.
The original name for the Sault Ste. Marie area was Bawating and it was an extremely important place for the gathering of people from all Native nations long before Europeans arrived in North America.
Part of the reason was that the St. Marys River and the rapids in particular were so rich in fish, game and furs.
The river provided for all the families that lived here and also for the people who arrived each year to trade, visit and socialize.
Environmental degradation of the St. Marys River has especially affected native people.
Today over 80 percent of the water that used to flow through the rapids is diverted to create hydroelectric power and many of the wetlands that supported the amazing fishery have been destroyed.
Native families that once freely fished anywhere in the river are separated by the border and fishing is restricted.
Pollution, including raw sewage, has contaminated water and beaches on native lands causing a health risk and stifling economic opportunities.
Although tribes and first nations work with non-native governments in many areas including fisheries and environmental efforts, this is the first time that the original people of the St. Marys River have breached the border and formed a united organization to address environmental injustices.
The joint commission is currently working on a mission statement and objectives to address important issues on the St. Marys River and beyond.
The joint commission is comprised of the Batchewana First Nation, the Bay Mills Indian Community, the Garden River First Nation and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.