Mercury warnings for fidh . not vaccinesMonday, June 12, 2006
MOLE LAKE, Wis. -- Tina and Rick Van Zile are members of the Mole Lake Ojibwe tribe here in northern Wisconsin. Each spring for more than 15 years, they have gone spearfishing together, engaging in a tradition for their tribe and gathering food that is vital to their diet.
But in recent years they have added something new to the old ways -- they consult a color-coded map that tells them which of the more than 50 lakes in the region have the highest mercury levels.
'I wouldn't even dream of going to these red ones,' said Tina Van Zile, pointing to one of the lakes designated as having the highest mercury content. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 22 states including Wisconsin have statewide mercury advisories, and 23 more have advisories for specific bodies of water. Typical advisories warn children and women of childbearing age against eating more than one game fish per month. The mercury in the fish can cause neurological damage in children and fetuses as well as health problems in adults.
Because fishing is so central to the traditions, social life and economic sustenance of many Indian tribes, the warnings have special significance for them. 'Fishing is a big part of what we eat and how we eat; it ties back to the culture and traditions of who we are as a people,' said Mole Lake tribal leader Wayne LaBine.
He describes mercury as an organ of 'Mother Earth's body' that has been turned into a toxin through exploitation of natural resources such as coal. Mercury is emitted from coal-burning power plants, paper mills and older chlorine plants.
'Fossil fuels were not intended to be burned like this, so the balance of the Earth is thrown off and mercury is misplaced,' LaBine said.
Along with taking part in the traditional spring spearfishing season and the sucker season that follows it, many Ojibwe from Mole Lake and surrounding tribes angle throughout the summer, ice-fish in the winter and make a yearly trip to fish with nets in Minnesota.
Fish dishes are served at ceremonies, funerals, fundraisers and other occasions. Most families have a freezer stocked year-round with fish, in bags labeled with the fish's size and lake of origin so they know its mercury risk.
Tribe member Steve Tuckwab said that when Mole Lake elders go to ceremonial meetings with other tribes where fish is served, 'I tell them maybe they shouldn't eat that fish because they don't know what lake it's from and how safe it is.'
walkin on 2006-06-12
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