Copper Mining Runs Afoul of Wild Rice in Minnesota

By Steve Karnowski | April 15, 2011 | 5:57 AM EDT

A canoe glides through a wild rice bed in White Earth, Minn. The grain is knocked off the stalks with two sticks. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

Minneapolis (AP) - Wild rice is sacred to the Ojibwe of Minnesota, but that may not protect it from the promise of jobs a new copper-nickel mining industry would bring to the state.

Lawmakers and business interests are working to loosen water quality standards to make it easier to start copper mining in northeastern Minnesota. The fight is being closely watched by the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa. They fear pollution could wipe out important stands of wild rice.

Nancy Schuldt, water projects coordinator for the band, says wild rice is central to Ojibwe cultural identity.

At issue is whether Minnesota's limits on discharges of sulfates are outmoded and what levels are safe for wild rice. Mining supporters point out that the state's rules are based on research done in the 1940s.