Grist has kept tabs on northern Wisconsin’s Mole Lake Sokoagon Chippewa tribe for the past five years as they’ve striven to keep a mine from disrupting their community and way of life. The story culminated in a happy ending just recently as the tribe rassled up $8 million in mortgage payments to the mining company, and the company returned the payment in full in the form of a trust fund.
But — go figure — the tribe is facing other environmental troubles. The Washington Post reports that the Mole Lake Chippewas (also known as the Ojibwe), who spearfish every spring for food and traditional purposes, have now added a new tradition:
[T]hey consult a color-coded map that tells them which of the more than 50 lakes in the region have the highest mercury levels.
The danger posed by mercury isn’t specific to the Mole Lake tribe, of course; fishing plays a large role in many tribes’ culture and traditions, and fish are an abundant and cheap food source for low-income reservations.
“You’re dealing with an underprivileged and impoverished population; we don’t have the choice of going to the store and buying the leanest-cut meat,” said Bob Shimek, a Minnesota coordinator of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who said he suffered months of strokelike symptoms caused by mercury after weeks of eating northern pike three times a day.
“The educational part is challenging,” said Shimek, who is making it a personal mission to get the word out about mercury. “I run into people who say, ‘These fish were good enough for my grandmother and grandfather, so they’re good enough for me.’ “
Makes me wonder what my grandchildren will say about the food I’m eating. Will it be delectable in comparison with what their dietary choices have been reduced to? Or will we have made efforts by then to detox our food system?