Water quality set up at KBIC reservation

Kurt Thiede, administrator-manager EPA Region 5, Great Lakes National Program

MARQUETTE — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 announced Monday that it approved an application from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community for “treatment in a similar manner as a state” under the federal Clean Water Act, which allows the tribe to set water quality standards for its L’Anse reservation.

“The EPA’s decision will promote tribal self government (and) will empower the tribe to manage their water resources. Also, by developing water quality standards, now they will also be responsible for pushing water quality certifications for actions requiring federal permits on their lands,” said Kurt Thiede, EPA Region 5 administrator and manager of the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program. “Now through this process, the EPA is recognizing the tribe’s authority to protect rivers and streams on the L’Anse reservation and to safeguard the health and heritage of their community and their natural resources.”

The approval of the application is a testament of KBIC’s work to develop a comprehensive environmental management program, Thiede said. This is the 65th such approval for water quality standards, he added.

KBIC Tribal President Warren Swartz thanked the EPA staff and the KBIC Natural Resources Department for their work in establishing the “treatment in a similar manner as a state” or what he calls “treatment as a sovereign.” The authorization will preserve life for the coming generations, he said.

“Treatment as a sovereign is important to the KBIC for many reasons. First and foremost, TAS is a responsibility stipulated in the first treaty. In implementing TAS we are honoring our first treaty with all orders of creation, which include our obligations and connections to the natural environment. Second, KBIC is able to cooperate in partnership with state and federal government agencies,” Swartz said. “Many of our natural resources such as fish and wildlife are included in our shared stewardship responsibilities along with other entities. TAS provides for locally relevant considerations of environmental quality within our area including both tribal and non-tribal communities. There is greater dependence on locally harvested food such as wild fish and game. Therefore, local environmental standards can assure greater protections for the good of the community as a whole. I look forward to working in a cooperative manner with our partners in the state, federal and local units of government.”

Teresa Seidel, Water Resources Division director at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, said she too is looking forward to collaborating with KBIC on their shared goal of high water quality and the protection of natural resources and public health.

KBIC is the first tribal community within the state of Michigan to be granted TAS designation, she noted.

Swartz concluded the press conference by stating the importance of Lake Superior to the KBIC.

“That’s 20% of the world’s fresh water and it’s important to not only the KBIC but everybody here that we protect that clean water, because water is life. Without water our bodies wouldn’t be able to sustain the way they have and it’s more important to the KBIC because that’s our way of life and are dependent on that water,” Swartz said. “We’re a fishing community and so the resources that we get, those treaty protected resources, help protect our way of life so this means a whole lot for the KBIC community to be able to exercise its sovereignty and continue to move forward and regulate and protect those treaty-protected resources.”

“Chi-miigwech” or thank you to those that made this possible, he said.

Trinity Carey can be reached at tcarey@miningjournal.net.


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