JUNE 6, 1997


As part of its overall strategy to obtain advice and insight about progress under the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the International Joint Commission (IJC) arranged a series of sessions with representatives of various societal sectors in the Great Lakes basin. The information received will be used to help the IJC prepare its Ninth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality, scheduled for release in 1998. Presented here is a summary of the session held with tribal representatives at Lac Courte Oreilles, Wisconsin on June 6, 1997.

PARTICIPANTS Commissioner, International Joint Commission
Mic Isham Tribal Governing Board, Lac Courte Oreilles
Don Gurnoe Tribal Administrator, Red Cliff
Anne Barres Natural Resources Department, Bad River
Amoose Photojournalist, Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission
Ann McCammon Soltis Policy Analyst, Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission
Jennifer Frozena Legal Intern, Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission
Susan Bayh
Garwood Tripp Communications Advisor, International Joint Commission
Marty Bratzel Physical Scientist, International Joint Commission


Native Americans in the United States have a series of treaties with the federal government that provide for the use of natural resources to preserve and maintain traditional lifestyles. Natural resources are presently managed for recreational and sport use primarily to the benefit of non-native Americans; however, treaty obligations must be recognized and resources also managed for subsistence harvest, that is as a source of food, clothing, and shelter, as well as for cultural and spiritual considerations. Fish and wildlife are major components of diet.

"Everyone over 60 on the reservation has cancer."

Environmental quality is especially crucial since elevated levels of contaminants, especially persistent, bioaccumulative toxic substances, in the resource severely restrict hunting and fishing for food. Mercury is of particular concern. Toxic substances are suspected to contribute to a variety of human health problems prevalent among tribal members, including cancer, diabetes, and Bell's Palsy. Contaminated food sources can be viewed as an environmental justice issue, since economics and culture dictate that bands rely on Great Lakes fish and wildlife.


Numerous sources of contaminants and environmental problems were identified. Environmental and economic considerations are closely related:

Logging and mining issues, as well as human health impacts are more fully discussed in the spring 1997 issue of Masinaigan, published by the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission.


How do we inform and convince people of the impact of chemical contaminants on human health and how do we actively engage people -- band members and state and federal officials -- to develop and implement solutions? Among the confounding factors are:

One approach to increase awareness about the relationship between the environment and human health is to relate our environment to people's lives -- fishable, swimmable, and drinkable. This includes a recognition of the spiritual values associated with our environment and that humans are an inseparable component. It was suggested that bands also draw upon the work of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, especially studies about impacts on those who closely depend on the environment for food.

Health studies are under way to quantify fish and wildlife contaminant levels, and to ascertain consumption levels, especially among those at greatest risk, including women of child-bearing age who can pass contaminants on to their children. Fish consumption advisories specifically geared to tribes are being developed. Other work is under way in a sustainable development context, to balance environment and economics.


On behalf of its constituent members, the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission submitted written advice in response to a specific request from the IJC. That submission, coupled with the advice summarized above, will be used in development of the IJC's Ninth Biennial Report. The IJC is appreciative of the time and thought of those who contributed.