Tribal opposition stops large dairy project near White Earth Reservation

Trails created by dozens of canoes.
Trails created by dozens of canoes lead into wild rice beds on Lower Rice Lake in Sept. 2015. White Earth officials plan regulatory changes to protect this and other waterways from agricultural development.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Updated: March 9, 5:42 a.m. | Posted: March 7, 1:04 p.m.

A large Minnesota company will reportedly abandon a large proposed dairy operation near the White Earth Reservation after tribal leaders opposed the project.

Riverview LLP is based in Morris, Minn., and has dairy or beef related farming operations in five states.

The company applied for state permits in October for a dairy operation with more than 20,000 animals located just outside the border of the White Earth Reservation.

The proposed project was one reason White Earth imposed a moratorium on feedlot operations within reservation boundaries.

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Tribal officials worried millions of gallons of manure from the project would be spread on land in the reservation, threatening surface and ground water on the reservation and in nearby land covered by an 1855 treaty giving tribal members rights to harvest natural resources.

Cows stand in line to be milked.
The White Earth moratorium on new or expanded large feedlot operations will remain in place while tribal officials develop and enact additional regulations.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News 2016

Riverview did not respond to a request for comment, but in an email to tribal officials this week said it would withdraw the permit applications for the project.

“At Riverview, we always strive to be good neighbors.  We have heard your concerns and have decided we will not be moving forward with this project,” a company official said in the email.

A Minnesota Pollution Control Agency official confirmed Riverview withdrew the permit application for the project.

‘Sends a strong message’

“I think it sends a strong message to agribusiness, and also to the state of Minnesota,” said White Earth environmental attorney Jamie Konopacky. “White Earth is a sovereign nation, it has jurisdiction and authority over its land and resources, and the band is going to move forward in taking all the actions that it needs to take in order to protect those resources.”

“Time and time again, our Tribe’s sovereignty and our land and water resources have been ignored or disrespected by the State of Minnesota and large agribusinesses,” said White Earth Tribal Chairman Michael Fairbanks in a statement.

“The land and water resources of the White Earth people are not for sale, and the Band plans to move forward by strengthening its laws to protect people and the environment,” Fairbanks said.

The White Earth moratorium on new or expanded large feedlot operations will remain in place while tribal officials develop and enact additional regulations, said Konopacky.

“This is a significant win for the White Earth Band, the tribal community members and the sacred resources of the White Earth Reservation and 1855 Treaty Territory.”