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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America



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Grant aims to help Ojibwe keep mercury out of diet


by Duluth (MN) News Tribune


credits: graphic: Fishing in the St. Mary's River rapids


Fishing in the St. Mary's River rapidsFor centuries, fish were an important part of the American Indian diet. Today, with mercury raining down from coal-burning power plants, eating too much can cause irreversible harm.

To help prevent that, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission a $445,830 grant to create a culturally sensitive program to reduce the risk of eating mercury-contaminated fish.

The Great Lakes commission and the Midwest Center for Environmental Science and Public Policy will use the three-year grant to improve methods of warning Wisconsin's Ojibwe about the dangers of mercury while encouraging them to continue fishing.

Mercury is a byproduct from burning coal at power plants. In water, bacteria convert mercury to a more toxic form, methyl mercury, which accumulates in fish. Eating too much mercury-laden fish could damage kidneys and the nervous system.

The risk varies with the concentration of mercury and with how much, and what kind, of fish a person eats.

"Unfortunately, many fish in Wisconsin have concentrations of mercury high enough to pose risk to developing fetuses and young children," said toxicologist Jeffrey Foran, president of the Midwest Center for Environmental Science and Public Policy.

The commission comprises 11 Ojibwe bands in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. While the project is focused primarily in Wisconsin, the commission also plans to test fish from lakes in Minnesota and Michigan.

The commission has tested fish for mercury for 16 years. The commission produces color-coded maps illustrating where mercury levels are safe and unsafe.

"We want to evaluate how that map is being used," said the commission's biological services director Neil Kmiecik. "Based upon the feedback we get from a survey that we will do, we will re-evaluate our intervention program."

Fish remain an important part of the diet of tribal members, especially in the spring, Kmiecik said. The commission is finishing a five-year study to determine how much fish tribal members eat.

In some areas, the cultural importance of fishing may clash with consumption advisories, Foran said, "so the challenge is to determine how we can best reduce exposure, perhaps through shifts to fish that are less contaminated, harvesting in lakes where there are lower levels of contaminates while still encouraging the traditional tribal activities of harvesting and consuming fish."

Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission
The Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) is an inter-tribal, co-management agency committed to the implementation of off-reservation treaty rights on behalf of its eleven Ojibwe member tribes. Formed in 1984 and exercising authority specifically delegated by its member tribes, GLIFWC's mission is to help ensure significant, off-reservation harvests while protecting the resources for generations to come.

Odanah, Wisconsin insert map here

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