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Protecting the land

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has installed a megawatt of solar photovoltaic cells near its casino. Photo courtesy Native Governance Center

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is leading the way in the fight for environmental health and justice. Wayne Dupuis, a Cohort 3 Native Nation Rebuilder, is FDL's environmental program manager and is working to promote sustainability, reduce FDL's energy consumption and protect the land for future generations.

Dupuis is an enrolled member of the FDL and he's lived on the reservation with his wife, who's enrolled at Turtle Mountain, for many years. He comes from a large extended family.

Outside of his work as environmental program manager, Dupuis is an avid gardener and is passionate about raising awareness about the impact that his tribe's current blood quantum requirements will have on future enrollment numbers.

"At the end of the Native Nation Rebuilders program, I took on this project to ensure that we're fully aware of our population trends and what we need to do to counter them," Dupuis said.

His work spans a wide range of issue areas related to environmental protection — from monitoring air and water quality to supervising FDL's Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO), Dupuis wears several hats. He manages a staff of 14 and feels fortunate to have "many good scientists" on his team.

Declaring the reservation a Class I Airshed

FDL is improving air quality by working toward declaring its reservation as a Class I Airshed. What does it mean for an area to be a Class I Airshed? Essentially, the designated area conforms to the highest level of air quality and visibility protection levels as specified by the Clean Air Act of 1963. More than 6,000 acres of national parks and more than 5,000 acres of national wilderness areas are Class I airsheds, in addition to six Indian reservations.

FDL is working to become the seventh Indian reservation with a Class I Airshed designation, which will beneficially impact air quality not just on tribal lands, but across northeastern Minnesota.

"Industry is our neighbor here, but they're emitting almost to the top of the scale," Dupuis said. "In fact, they're going over in some respects. So us being a Class I Airshed is a threat to their ability to pollute. In the past, Class I Air pertained to a 60-mile circumference."

Raising pollution concerns about proposed mines

Citizens of the FDL depend on the health of the land — both reservation land and ceded treaty lands — for their livelihood and survival. The FDL Environmental Program recognizes this important relationship and also sees the value of clean waterways and wetlands for all Minnesotans. PolyMet Mining plans to construct a large open pit mine, known as the "NorthMet Project," on Anishinaabe treaty lands to obtain metals embedded in sulfide-containing rocks. The mine is currently in the permitting stage, but Dupuis and his team at the FDL Environmental Program were among the first to raise concerns about the potential for the mine to leach metals and other pollutants into area waterways. As a result of tribal concerns, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruled that PolyMet's initial environmental impact statement (EIS) was inadequate.

While the project has since cleared the EIS hurdle, Dupuis and his team plan to continue raising awareness about the mine's potential to cause irreparable environmental damage.

"We live in an area that has 10 percent of the world's fresh water, and we're concerned about what they say is going to happen. We're not convinced. We didn't make treaties with foreign corporations."

Reducing energy consumption as Kyoto Signatory

Back in 2007, the FDL Reservation Business Committee passed a resolution to abide by the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and pledged to convert 20 percent of its consumed energy to renewables by 2020. The tribe has made great strides toward accomplishing this goal, in addition to reducing its overall energy consumption.

The FDL Environmental Program has spearheaded the effort. For example, the program performed an energy audit on all tribal buildings, including examining energy bills, to determine the tribe's baseline energy consumption and possible ways to cut back.

In addition to incorporating energy reduction mechanisms into existing infrastructure, FDL has pledged to put energy efficiency and renewable energy technology into all new construction. The Fond du Lac Resources Management Building is LEED Certified (the most commonly used green building certification in the world) and features 10.5 kilowatts of solar, south-facing windows and a green roof, among other features.

In addition, the tribe has installed a megawatt of solar photovoltaic cells near its casino. Minnesota Power was in the midst of a settlement regarding pollution discharge and awarded FDL funding for a renewable energy project.

Dupuis suggested using the funding to install solar panels, and the utility agreed. Overall, the tribe has made great strides toward cutting its energy consumption and increasingly relying upon renewables for its energy generation. It plans to continue this effort into the future.

"As a tribe, we've reduced our energy consumption by 50 percent from our starting baseline," Dupuis said.