A modest gathering of wigwams and tents has become ground zero for tribal sovereignty and treaty rights in Wisconsin. The Penokee Education Camp was created by the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe tribe to build awareness of the rich cultural and environmental heritage of the area and to draw attention to the negative impact that a proposed open pit iron ore mine would have on the area.
The future of the camp was postponed following the vote of the Iron County Board on July 30, referring the issue back to the Forestry Committee with instructions to find a legal way to allow the camp to remain in the forest.
Although the board initially granted campers permission to stay for an extended period in the forest, county leaders have since done an about face and are considering using a county law forbidding camping longer than 14 days. According to Iron County Clerk , this would be the first time that the county has had an opportunity to enforce the law or issue a citation.
According to information sent via e-mail by William Coch, media spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, (DNR), Iron County is endangering its right to enforce forest regulations if leaders fail to take action against the camp. In a letter dated July 8, sent to Iron County Clerk Marty Lipske from Jane Severt, Executive Director for the DNR and Elroy Zemke, President of Wisconsin County Forests Association, they express concern with “possible further impacts to Wisconsin’s 2.4 million acres of county forest lands if this type of activity (such as the Penonkee Camp) is allowed to continue. We respectfully request Iron County Forest Ordinances be enforced and illegal activities cease.”
Gov. Scott Walker is at the top of the list of those people who are copied on the letter.
Current Gov. Scott Walker appointed Severt to her position.
Marty Lipske, Iron County District Attorney, has indicated that the campers are not engaging in any criminal activity so he is unsure of what charges could be brought against them.
Prior to the meeting Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk indicated that he would have to follow any orders from the district attorney regarding charging campers but said that he was certain that no action would be taken immediately after the meeting.
Camp spokesperson Paul DeMain, said the LCO tribe chartered a bus to bring concerned citizens to attend the Iron County Board meeting. Camp organizors requested mine opponents to attend the meeting and offer silent support of the Harvest Camp.
Mel Gasper, Camp organizer indicated that neighbors have assured him that campers can relocate to private land if necessary. Mike Wiggins, Bad River Ojibwe Tribal chairman observed that if the camp were indeed closed down, the fight to oppose the Gogebic Taconite mine would continue.
RELATED: Wisconsin Mining War