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ODANAH, Wis. (AP) â¿¿ For generations the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has quietly carved out a hardscrabble existence in the evergreen forests and sloughs along what people here call the Big Water, living off wild rice, fish and game.
Little has changed over the decades. They grapple with poverty every day. Their casino is tiny, their homes aging and weather-beaten. But they have their land and their water and that's always been enough.
Now, though, tribal members find themselves in the path of a major effort to create new jobs in Wisconsin. Their lifestyle may turn out to be the most formidable obstacle yet for a Republican governor determined to show that he can ramp up the state's economy.
Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature are pushing to bring a huge iron mine to the Bad River's doorstep and revive an industry that has been dormant for nearly 50 years. Conservationists fear the mine would pollute the area, but supporters disagree and are fast-tracking a bill to clear the way.Â
In his two years in office, Walker has rolled over his Democratic adversaries and beaten a recall attempt, but he now faces a different kind of opponent. Though only 1,000 members live on the reservation, the tribe has legal status as a sovereign nation and could tie up the project in court, depriving Walker of his signature job creation achievement as he prepares for re-election.
"We're not going to let it happen," tribal elder Joe Rose Sr. said. "The (Chippewa) tradition is to look seven generations ahead. We ask ourselves what we're leaving for those unborn. Will there be clean water and air? Will there be any pristine wilderness left?"
The issue has inflamed the tension between the state's beloved outdoor traditions and the need for paychecks. Many residents of the surrounding counties, where unemployment ranges up to 12 percent, have latched onto promises of hundreds of jobs on-site; backers say there would be thousands more for heavy equipment manufacturers and suppliers across the state.