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On the shores of Lake Superior, a coalition of Native and non-native activists are working across state boundaries to protect the waters of the Great Lakes and the life-styles of the region’s people from the catastrophic effects of an expanding mining industry.

The waters of the Great Lakes are under threat – a resurgence of industrial mining has resulted in an expansion of both exploration and permitting of hard rock mining. Trust examines the effect of mining on Great Lakes ecosystems and lifestyles, questions the support of mining by regional politicians who work with mineral companies to rewrite environmental legislation, and explores how treaty rights can serve to strengthen environmental protections.

While other films have explored the problems associated with mineral exploration in individual communities, Trust will examine the issue with a regional perspective focused on the Great Lakes and will also explore treaty rights as a potential method of environmental protection. As environmental attorney Dean B. Suagee asks and answers, “Where do American Indian and Alaska Native cultures fit into the landscape of environmental protection and natural resource management?…a lot of places.” He continues, “…the larger American society could benefit from enhanced appreciation of and respect for tribal cultural values concerning the web of life and from greater attention to incorporating some of these values into the framework of environmental law.”


The title, Trust, refers to two concepts. The first is the Trust Responsibility that is inherent in the nearly 400 treaties signed between indigenous nations and the United States government. It includes a federal obligation to protect and enhance tribal lands and resources. The second is the Public Trust Doctrine as it applies to the environment and our natural resources.


We're currently in development on this feature-length documentary film. We're researching the issues, reaching out to stakeholders and raising funding. If you've been affected, positively or negatively, by the mining industry we'd like to hear your story. Please contact us. You can also support the film by making a donation.

Recommended Reading

Suagee, Dean B. “Tribal Environmental Policy Acts and the Landscape of Environmental Law”.  Natural Resources & Environment, Volume 23, Number 4, Spring 2009.

Photo Credit | Jeremiah Eagle Eye

The Film


Permitting procedures for mining operations, which differ state to state, don't account for the cumulative effect that multiple projects will have on a region.

  • There are at least 15 mining operations in the upper Great Lakes region. Many are in ceded territory that should be protected by existing treaties between indigenous nations and the U.S. government. This number doesn’t include additional sites in Canada. Taconite, copper and nickel are the primary targets of mining in the upper Great Lakes region.

  • There are numerous additional exploration sites in the upper Great Lakes region. Mining operations are permitted individually according to each state’s regulations. This process doesn’t account for the cumulative effect that multiple projects have on the region.

  • Many lower grade mineral deposits are located in sulfide ore bodies. When this waste rock is brought to the surface it reacts with air and water to produce sulfuric acid. Any mis-steps in the handling of this waste can result in contamination of surrounding waters with acid mine drainage and may include other toxic metals such as arsenic, mercury and selenium. This can occur in copper mining as well as taconite mining. The water-rich environment of the Great Lakes region increases this risk.

  • Many existing regulations are not effectively enforced. Violators are fined and allowed to continue operating on modified permits. 

  • The subsistence lifestyles of many Native American and rural people puts them at greater risk from exposure to mining pollutants that contaminate water, wild rice and other plant life, fish and game.

  • The economic arguments in favor of mining are weak. Many iron range towns are losing population and have average household incomes far below their state’s average.

Recommended Reading

“Iron Mining in the Lake Superior Basin”, Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission

“Sulfide Mining”, Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission

“United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, the United Nations, March, 2008.

The Issues
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