(Article changed on July 9, 2013 at 15:18)
(Article changed on July 9, 2013 at 13:24)
LCO Harvest & Education Camp sign by Penokee Hills Eductation Project
The Penokee Hills are sure jumping with activity these days. This pristine forested area filled with streams, lakes, flora and fauna sits atop the Great Divide of Northern Wisconsin, where water on the north slope flows to Lake Superior, and on the south slope it makes its way to the Mississippi River. It is truly blessed with a richness of the aquatic sort.
The activity centers around the need to protect the Bad River Watershed of the north slope from activities of the mining company Gogebic Taconite, or GTAC. This company seeks to despoil the Penokee Hills with a gash in Mother Earth four miles long, a half mile wide and a thousand feet deep from which they wish to extract the low grade iron ore of the mammoth Ironwood Formation. If the plan was enacted, this would be the largest open pit iron mine in the world
There is a tribal camp set up in the Penokee Hills west of Mellen on Moore Park Road (off of Hwy. 77). It is called the LCO Harvest & Education Camp, named for one of the three Ojibwa Bands most affected by mining threat. They are the Bad River Band, the Lac Courte Oreilles Band and the Red Cliff Band.
Since it was created after the last big snowstorm in mid-May (yup, it's Wisconsin, alright), the camp has seen Native and non-Native people taking in the beauty, assessing the value of resources, and researching Indian heritage in the Penokee Hills. Several times Ojibwa drum groups from the three surrounding reservations have brought the ancient sounds, the heartbeat of the Anishinaabe People, to the boreal forest overlooking Lake Superior.
The campers and others with the Penokee Hills Education Project gamboled in the nearby town of Ashland's Fourth of July parade. At the camp there have been birthday celebrations, stories told, traditions passed on, and everyone from grandpas and grandmas down to small children intermingled in peaceful enjoyment of nature at the LCO Harvest & Education Camp.
This same group of people recently testified before the Iron County Board of Supervisors in support of the board's effort to create zoning laws to protect the area's denizens from the potential impact of a ruinous mining operation. However, just mere hours before the county board testimony was scheduled, early in the morning of Friday, July 5, someone came under cover of darkness and stole the three Band's flags from the campsite.
Earlier still, on June 11, there was an incident when out-of-town youths made unwelcome advances against the GTAC crew that was drilling for rock core samples not far from the camp. Self-identified as members of the group Earth First, they allegedly confronted the crew with obscene words, grabbed and broke a cell phone and slashed a tire. One person has been charged with the crimes and is awaiting trial. This group is in no way associated with the Harvest & Education Camp
Last weekend camouflaged, armed guards from the Arizona firm Bulletproof Securities made their appearance packing assault rifles with flash suppressors and laser sights. A video crew from IndianCountryTV.com captured some footage and even spoke with one of them. Peaceful intentions were expressed by the videographers. VIEW THE VIDEO HERE
This has triggered an avalanche of attention from the media with articles appearing in the Huffington Post and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, interviews on Wisconsin Public Radio, and a flurry of activity on the Internet.
Two Wisconsin lawmakers, State Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) and Representative Janet Bewley (D-Ashland) have issued a letter to the mining company's president, Bill Williams, strongly requesting that GTAC remove the heavily armed guards and return to their former policy of paying off duty local police officers for security duty.
Regardless of the minor incidents, the Harvest & Education Camp remains a worthwhile destination for those who want to get up close and personal with the wilderness-like environment of the Chequamegon National Forest area of northern Wisconsin. Visitors can add their voices to the growing number of people who wish to see the prevention of what would be the world's largest open pit iron mine.
The Bad River, which originates in the Penokees, makes its way downhill to the home of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin. The original people to inhabit this place, they have a treaty-guaranteed right to hunt, fish and gather natural resources on public property anywhere in northern Wisconsin. By extension, they also have the right to set water quality standards anywhere that affects them, as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court. This applies to all of the Bands of the Lake Superior Ojibwas.
For more information on these topics go to the Citizens Concerned about the proposed Penokee Mine [f]Facebook site, and to the Penokee Hills Education Projects web site.
The next public meeting of the Iron County Zoning Committee will be at 3 pm on July 16 at the County Courthouse in Hurley. On July 29 at 4 pm the Iron County Mining Impact Committee will meet at the same location.