Minnesota Chippewa Thwart Big Mining–for now, Queen Bess Island Restoration Leads to Brown Pelican Return, Meet Eco-Artist Aviva Rahmani, and Outdoor Afro

by | Apr 16, 2021 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

Fond Du Lac Band of the Chippewa Nation temporarily halt Big Mining’s copper mine construction, plus return of brown pelicans to Queen Bess Island. Meet climate champion and eco-artist Aviva Rahmani, and Outdoor Afro, a new way to commune with Nature.




The Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa scored a major victory in March when a federal regulator issued a 90-day permit suspension, overriding a permit it had previously issued to PolyMet Mining Corp. to fill or dredge more than 900 acres of wetland for its proposed copper mine.

The 90-day suspension of PolyMet’s Section 404 permit is to give the EPA sufficient time to determine whether the mine “may affect” the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa that’s downstream, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

In 2019, the Fond du Lac Band filed a lawsuit alleging the EPA failed to hold a hearing on the downstream impacts of the mining project. A court decision in late February sided with the Band, and in March a judge okayed the EPA’s request to review PolyMet’s mine proposal.

The move is significant in that it spotlights the band’s groundbreaking effort to assert Indigenous water quality standards as a “downstream state” under the Clean Water Act. A strategy that could be employed by other Native American Indian Tribes in the battle to protect their environment.

The Fond du Lac Reservation and treaty land sit on the St. Louis River, and the affected wetlands surround the Partridge and Embarrass Rivers, which lead to the St. Louis River. The band fears potential sulfide pollution from PolyMet would damage its wild rice and other food resources, endangering its ability to fish and hunt. Groups opposed to PolyMet welcomed news of the permit suspension.

Depending on the outcome of the EPA’s review, the US Army Corps of Engineers could decide to reinstate PolyMet’s permit, modify it or revoke it. This also means that five major permits for the $1 billion PolyMet project are now stayed or under review. 

“Public officials who issued the permit in the first place, who were in charge of safeguarding our environment and human health, did not do their job and failed to consider the impact the mine would have on the Fond du Lac Band,” Chris Knopf, executive director at Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, said in a statement.

DEEPER DIVE: YahooSports!, Bring Me the News, Telegraph




Spring has sprung, and so too have hundreds of brown pelican nesting sites on Louisiana’s Queen Bess Island. Back in late 2009, the US Fish and Wildlife Service had just removed the brown pelican—the state bird of Louisiana—from its endangered species list, only to have the pelicans’ habitat on Queen Bess island destroyed by the 2010 BP Deep Horizon oil spill.

Even without the damage caused by the oil spill, Queen Bess Island was enroute to disappearing. Subsidence– the gradual caving in or sinking of an area of land, sea level rise and erosion were washing it away. In fact, the brown pelican’s nesting area had been reduced from over 35 acres to about five.

Thanks to almost 19 million $ out of the 20.8 billion dollar BP settlement paid out from the Deep Horizon disaster, the State of Louisiana,  and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority set out to restore Queen Bess Island, and hopefully bring brown pelicans once more from the brink.

First, the island’s shoreline was rebuilt with rocks and then sand barged in from the Mississippi River was pumped onto the island to restore its footprint. The island’s elevation in some spots was increased to four feet to allow for a range of habitat. That allowed them to return the size of the brown pelican nesting to 36 acres.

What may seem like an ordinary annual event is actually quite remarkable, and a promising sign of recovery and resilience for Louisiana’s state bird. The return of brown pelicans across coastal Louisiana illustrates the benefit of conservation policies that work to restore and protect ecosystems, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, 

DEEPER DIVE: CSM.com, Environmental Defense Fund, NatGeo, State of Louisiana



“In the midst of ecocide, art can divine hope out of a chaotic world. My task as an artist is to understand that and design another world.” So says Aviva Rahmani, pioneering ecological artist and activist. Rahmani has worked at the cutting edge of the avant-garde since she committed to her career in art at the age of nineteen. She has devoted many years of her working life to teaching, inspiring, and leading others through her art to a renewed focus on ecological restoration as artmaking. Rahmani is not just a prolific ecoartist. She also holds a PhD in Environmental Sciences and a double MA in multi-media and electronic music.

Two of her exhibits, The Blued Trees and The Blued Trees Symphony (2015- present) have been installed and copyrighted in the path of natural gas pipelines to protect forests across miles of North America. Her prolific ecoart centers around three major themes—endangered species, water ecosystem preservation and climate change.  Two intriguing examples in the climate change series include Ghost Nets and Trigger Points/Tipping Points. In the latter work, Rahmani collaborated with paleoecologist Dr. Jim White of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research. The topic of Trigger Points/Tipping Points is the impact of global warming on conflict zones around the world in relation to river systems, like Bangladesh and the Ganges. And curiously New Orleans and the Mississippi.

As Americans, we don’t think of the Mississippi River Delta as a conflict zone. But upon reflection—as is Rahmani’s want for us—it’s easy to see the enormous conflict there between humans and nature, environmental injustice wrought by human pollution (think BP Deep Horizon oil spill of 2010); and societal/environmental injustice in the face of climate change (think Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the FIVE named storms  that hit Louisiana in 2020 alone) 

Aviva Rahmani, pioneering ecoartist and activist worth knowing.


DEEPER DIVE: Honoring the Future, Aviva Rahmani, Wikipedia, A Blade of Grass



I remember when we were building this website and the dearth of photos available of BIPOC people enjoying the outdoors was really upsetting. Apparently , Rue Mapp felt the same way. Maybe not about the photos, but certainly about Black folks enjoying the great outdoors comfortably. She initially started Outdoor Afro as a blog in 2009. Things escalated quickly because in 2010, Mapp was invited to the Obama White House to participate in the America’s Great Outdoors Conference.

Outdoor Afro has successfully connected thousands, especially from the Black American community, to nature and the benefits of spending more time outdoors.  And in its 12 years, has become a leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. Outdoor Afro supports and promotes policies in these following areas:

  •   1st ,Connecting Black People to the Outdoors: Ensuring Black people have access, representation, meaningful participation, and quality nature-based experiences. This includes Elevating the voices of Black leaders, scholars, and community members engaged in addressing inequities and developing innovative solutions in land, water, and wildlife management (e.g. local, state, national parks, wildlife areas, community based green spaces.

Second, Reimagining Blackness in the Outdoors – Uncovering and amplifying the historical and ongoing contributions of Black people in the outdoors. And ALSO, Protecting the Outdoors – Protecting and enhancing our lands, wildlife, and waterways for long term sustainability. With more than 80 leaders in 42 cities around the country, Outdoor Afro connects thousands of people to nature experiences, and is changing the face of conservation. 

DEEPER DIVE: Outdoor Afro, NPR, The Recreationalist