The Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest Camp celebrated its one-year anniversary this weekend.
On Saturday, April 26th, a group of about thirty people gathered in Iron County to feast on pancakes and locally produced maple syrup they call “Penokee Gold.”
Paula Mohan came from Madison for the event.
“I wanted to come for the pancakes and the Penokee Gold and all the other food and the fact that it is the one year anniversary," Mohan said. "I was last here in February and it’s kind of nice to be here because it is not twenty below and there are no bugs yet."
Harvest Camp also known as HELP, the Harvest Education Learning Project was established by the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe on April 27th, 2013 in opposition of the proposed iron mine by Gogebic Taconite. Chippewa members are allowed to hunt and gather food on ceded territory. And HELP Project organizers say the land offers sustainable ways of making a living, like producing maple syrup. Lac Courte Oreilles spokesperson Paul DeMain says tribal members have tapped dozens of trees in the area this spring.
“We’re probably going to pull the taps on all the maples today, but the birch is running now," DeMain explained. "The minute that the maple syrup season comes to an end, the birch’ll start running. So we’ve got yellow and white birch running and collecting, and that’s gonna be more for medicinal purposes.”
Michael Mitusewic from Hurley reminisced of his experiences recreating in the area and visiting Harvest Camp during the last year.
“I grew up in this area," he said. "Every year I always fished down on the Tyler Forks. I like fly fishing and normal fishing. It’s nice to get both cultures together on a good environment.”
It has been an eventful year for the Harvest Camp. Residents took heat from mine supporters, after protesters not affiliated with the camp vandalized a nearby mine site. Harvest Camp organizers tried to negotiate for a permit to stay long term on Iron County land, but the Iron County Board of Supervisors voted to eject the occupiers of Harvest Camp from county land in March, saying their presence violated a 14-day camping limit. Now, Harvest Camp supporters have been moving wigwams and supplies onto private land on the other side of Moore Park Road.
Paul De Main explains the decision to move is a way to maintain the camp’s presence without breaking any rules.
“And why are we moving across the street to private land? Because it’s more important that we are here, than to have the confrontation, and to be here for educational purposes."
Two property owners that are sharing their land with Harvest Camp were at the anniversary event and voiced their support. Russ Buccanero, one of the property owners, says he has deep family roots to the area and doesn’t want to see a mine so close to his property.
“My family came here in 1858," Buccanero said. "My forty has been was in my family since 1920 and then I got it in 1990. The end of my property falls right into the hole. If any one’s got a vested interest in it, it is me. I used to enjoy it up her because it was solitude. If it [the mine] comes my way of life is over.”
As people finished eating, they passed around maple syrup candy and the sun came out. Sandy Gokee from the Red Cliff Tribe demonstrated the traditional method to separate the husk and grains of wild rice, while children played and a few men worked on putting up a new wigwam at the camp’s new location. The residents hope to be doing these activities for another year to come.