HANCOCK – Members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) and Copper Country residents gathered on Tuesday to celebrate Tribal Water Day virtually.
World Water Day is a global annual event that celebrates water, highlights its importance and raises awareness of water-related issues.This year, the theme of the event is “Groundwater: Making the invisible visible”.
KBIC’s virtual event features exploring water from a tribal perspective – examining the role of culture, science and technology in protecting and preserving nibi (water in Ojibwe).
KBIC Tribal Council member Doreen Blaker opened the event by pointing out the importance of water to all life forms and the need to preserve and protect it.
“We are water. Water is us. Our tribe knows the value of water. Our teachings teach us to respect this life-giving substance. We cannot live without it,” she says.
“As water resources get closer to their limits, it’s critical that humanity works together to protect it for future generations.”
KBIC’s Natural Resources Department (KBIC-NRD) is responsible for the conservation and protection of tribal water resources. KBIC-NRD works on a variety of water-related issues, including water quality testing, treaty resource conservation, fisheries programs, and wetland, beach, and groundwater monitoring.
Water expert Justin Woodruff provides information on the history of the KBIC water initiative.
According to Woodruff, KBIC’s L’Anse Reserve includes 17 miles of Lake Superior shoreline, 80 miles of streams and rivers, 15,000 acres of lakes and 3,300 acres of wetlands.
To maintain these water resources, KBIC has developed water quality protection and management practices using the Clean Water Act (CWA) program. Water testing through the program began in 2000 and continues today, with quarterly testing at 20 sites on KBIC land.
“The objectives of this program are to maintain and manage the water quality standards program developed by KBIC for the L’Anse Indian Reservation, protect and restore aquatic ecosystems through a surface water monitoring program, stimulate stewardship efforts, and provide awareness and education,” Woodruff said.
In 2020, KBIC was approved “Treat as a country” (TAS) status, making it the first Native American tribe in Michigan to do so. This legal designation transfers power from the federal government to federally recognized tribes. It enables KBIC to work with EPA to draft, approve and enforce its own water quality standards.
In the following presentation, Michigan Tech professor Cory McDonald describes the process of developing locally appropriate water quality standards for KBIC.
Water Quality Technician Dylan Friisvall discusses monitoring wells and public beaches to detect pollutants and protect public health.
“The most common in our area is the Jacobsville sandstone, right under our feet. Areas with this type of sandstone tend to have higher levels of uranium and radon exposure,” he explained.
“We always check for these when sampling. For anything that is not safe to eat, there are treatment options that can be installed to help reduce or eliminate harmful contaminants to safer levels.”
Friisvall also detailed KBIC’s beach monitoring program, which was launched in 2018 after Father’s Day floods caused septic tanks and wastewater systems to overflow, resulting in elevated E. coli levels on local beaches.
To ensure the beaches are safe for the public to use, KBIC now conducts weekly water quality monitoring during the summer and publishes its test results on its Facebook page.
Field Fisheries Technician Patrick LaPointe provides information on the KBIC-NRD fisheries program, which includes commercial fisheries monitoring and fish population data collection and aging of six major species: trout, lake herring, whitefish, brook trout, large Eyefish and Lake Sturgeon.
Wildlife biologist, Wildlife and Habitat Section Chief Erin Johnston describes KBIC’s wetland monitoring program.
In 2016, KBIC-NRD began implementing a wetland monitoring strategy and compiling site-specific datasets for water quality, sediment and soil, macroinvertebrates, wildlife, and vegetation. They also collected survey data to measure community perceptions of wetland value and management.
Now that the dataset has been established, Johnston said it will be continuously updated and used to further develop monitoring and management strategies.
“Wetlands are highly productive ecosystems that provide many gifts and services to people and communities beyond human communities, including pollution filtration, wildlife habitat, nursery habitat for fish, and flood control during storm events or snowmelt in spring. Wetlands It also provides the Ojibwe with habitat for culturally important plant species,” Johnston said.
In the event’s closing presentation, Shannon DesRochers of KBIC-NRD, Geraldine Grant of Superior Watershed Partnership and Amanda Zeidler of Eagle Mine discussed the Citizen Environmental Monitoring Programme (CEMP), which monitors and communicates environmental impacts caused by Eagle Operations of Mine, a nickel and copper mine 40 miles from Marquette.
As the event wraps up, attendees are invited to take part in two upcoming water walks on July 20 and October 8.
“These water walks are open to people of all colors, creeds and philosophies, who come together to receive life’s most precious gift: the nebi. As we enclose the nebi in a copper vessel, we sing, we pray, We are very grateful to Nibi,” said Kathryn Smith of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.
For more information on these topics, attendees are instructed to visit KBIC’s website or Facebook page, or to contact KBIC staff.