Menominee River nomination for National Register of Historic Places could impact Back Forty Mine, private landowners

The site is located 50 miles upstream from the mouth of the Menominee River.
Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 7:13 PM EDT
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MENOMINEE COUNTY, Mich. (WLUC) - Parts of the Menominee River could soon be on the National Register of Historic Places. This comes after a decision by the Michigan State Historic Preservation Review Board on Friday.

The site is near the proposed Back Forty Mine in Menominee County. Ancient land from the Menominee Indian Tribe, Anaem Omot, translates to ‘The Dog’s Belly.’ The site is located 50 miles upstream from the mouth of the Menominee River. It includes the Sixty Islands site, which is extremely important in the tribes’ history.

The site includes land in Lake and Holmes Townships in Michigan and Wausaukee and Amberg Townships in Wisconsin. Members of the Menominee Indian Tribe are happy with the decision.

“We lived on the Menominee River for thousands of years,” said Dave Grignon, Menominee Tribal Historic Preservation officer. Grignon said the tribe was forced off the river in the 1830s by the U.S. Government. Even today, his tribe still visits the river for rituals.

U.P. legislators said they are unhappy with the State Historic Preservation Review Board’s decision Friday to nominate the land for protection as a historic place. It could impact the proposed Back Forty Mine.

“After decades of trying to bring hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars into our economy every year, the mine is done,” said Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain). “It is so frustrating because I never heard of SHPO until two weeks ago.”

In a statement to TV6, the project’s general manager did not indicate what impact the action could have.

“While the company remains committed to protecting cultural resources, [it] finds it unfortunate that the Michigan Historic Preservation Office is proposing federal land use regulations upon hundreds of residents in the U.P. and Northern Wisconsin without meaningful consultation,” said Dave Anderson, Back Forty Mine Project General Manager.

Legislators say the two can coexist.

“No, we are not going to be digging up the graves of Native Americans and throwing away artifacts,” LaFave said. “The gold mine can operate without digging up any deceased individuals or disturbing any of the burial grounds.”

The Menominee Indian Tribe said preserving its culture is important.

“Especially in the Sixty Islands area of the river, we have our burial mounds, our sacred sites, ceremonial sites and raised garden beds,” Grignon said. “It is a sacred area to our people,”

U.P. lawmakers said this nomination can impact private property owners going forward.

“Now people will have to jump through hoops to do anything to their properties,” said Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette). “The mine already has to do a full archeological site investigation when they go for their permitting, but now, this ties in all the other land owners.”

Owners of private property in the area can either concur or object to the nomination. TV6 has requested a comment from the State Historic Preservation Office, but we have not heard back at this time. The nomination will now move to the keeper of the National Registry, where a decision will be made if the landscape area nomination will be added to the National Historic Registry.