LETTER:...You paddle your canoes on the surface of the border lakes, but have no idea how deep the water is and what five generations of families have done to keep it clean.

Dear Editor:
An Indian Story:
The words that are used to cause maximum impact are many.
Several of them remain taboo in public so there will be no caustic idiom here, but I can demo an excellent example. It’s the “F” bomb. The “F” bomb is used in everyday language today and as a result, it’s lost its tough back-stiffening punch that it had 50 years ago.
Today it’s not unusual to hear school kids nonchalantly drop the F-bomb without a thought. It’s been overplayed in pop culture and it’s lost much of its impact if not its social disdain. That’s what happens when a word is overexposed.
And now there’s this word: RACISM. The term “racist” was used last week to deflect the storyline on what took place between the pro-mining mayor of Ely and the five bands of Chippewa Indians who operate the Fortune Bay casino on Lake Vermilion. If it were not for what had to be a coerced anti-mining letter issued by the tribe supporting a mining ‘kill bill” authored by Congresswoman Betty McCollum CD4,
this mess didn’t have to happen. That single letter has done more damage to the Band, the Tribe, the casino and the stellar Chippewa brand than any modern mining project could do when utilizing best practices that exemplify twenty-first century mining.
The term “racist”, as stated here, was pitched with little, or no forethought and has done nothing more than create a false narrative that defies reality.
The woman who threw-out the accusation of “racism” was quick-on-the trigger to start a race war when the truth is we have been living peacefully with our native brothers and sisters forever and never was racism welcome in our community.
As children, we never gave their lineage and race a second thought. As a matter of fact, you caught more ethnic b. s. if you were a Finn, or a Slav, or an Italian than native kids did for being “an Indian.”
And what was the thread that kept us connected ? It was our ability to trust, love and laugh with each other, to shed our blood for each other and heaven forbid, we would have died for each other. Sans Ms. Becky, the women who lobbed the race bomb are outsiders. They’re foreigners, transplants from who knows (or cares) where. They’re newbies to a one-hundred and fifty year-old culture whose ethos is no different than any other aging iron range city.
These women openly boast about being in love with Ely yet just like others of their status, they will do anything they can to fundamentally change the complexion of the community.
They have no real knowledge of mining and I am certain they will never change their minds. They have taken an oath and sworn allegiance to the orthodoxy of anti-mining and they shall follow their high priestess, Becky, wherever she will lead.
But let me tell you about Ely. This little town you adore has its forever underpinnings in mining, the timber industry and tourism –in that order- and that’s never going to change- period! You paddle your canoes on the surface of the border lakes, but have no idea how deep the water is and what five generations of families have done to keep it clean.
You’re in awe of the forests, but have no idea what five generations of families did to reforest the wilderness when it was clear-cut (twice) or ravaged by a hundred and fifty years of fires.
Here’s the good news to all you newbies: our community will never invite you to leave. We want you to stay, we need you and we are eager to help you become a success, but don’t you ever ask us to change a one-hundred and fifty year culture just to accommodate your utopian environmental dream; cause ladies (!) it ain’t gonna happen.
In 1887 the first ever frame wood building was constructed in Ely by A.J. Fenske. It was a hardware and furniture store. Today, the name Fenske is alive and well in Ely; maybe six generations by now.
We know the historical side of Ely, but the human side, the names, faces and their personal histories get little or no mention.
If you truly love Ely then embrace all of Ely. To save Ely we need to fully support the sum of all the parts. I’m quite certain you’ve learned all you know about mining from the Friends of the Boundary Waters, one of numerous groups controlled by Becky; the same Becky who is the puppet master for the marionette Representative from CD4.
Here’s my point. Since 1886 to the present, native Americans have lived among us. Since the birth of our city, native people were helping the white man “to become one” with the forests and waters.
It was the Chippewa who helped the white man to survive. And today the white man helps the Chippewa to survive; pick-up trucks, rifles, fishing gear, boats and motors, modern medicine, hospitals and clinics, good educations, refrigeration, quality food, housing and heat, employment, seasonal clothing, the list is endless.
All these things weren’t even available when our races melded into what became Ely.
Why do we do it? Because we are happy to see the joy they get from all of life’s creature-comforts that are available to all of us thanks in no small part to mining.
As a society of Anglos and Indians we enjoy an intertwined relationship that has been unencumbered since 1886. Our childhood friendships still reign and it’s a joy to know that our grandchildren coexist as we did; that is, until now.
Really ladies, racism? Shame on you.
Bob Columbo
former Elyite