LCO Harvest Camp: There will be no mine in the Penokees
Hayward, WI – A group of protesters are facing arrest in northern Wisconsin. Members of Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Band of Ojibwe and others have been hosting a traditional harvest camp for nearly two months near a proposed mine site in Iron and Ashland counties. The mine, sought after by Gogebic Taconite, or GTAC, is a proposed open pit iron mine. Plans for the mine are moving ahead because of a mining law deregulation measure that was signed by Governor Scott Walker this past spring. The proposed open pit iron mine would be the largest in the nation.
The Lac Courte Oreilles, along with the other Ojibwe tribes in the area, environmentalists and farmers are strongly against the proposed mine that would destroy waterways with sulfuric acid and heavy metals.
Recently, pictures surfaced of men dressed in head-to-toe cammo, brandishing assault weapons, providing security for GTAC. The pictures exploded on the internet, making national news.
The GTAC guards worked for Arizona based Bullteproof Securities, a security company that specializes in border patrol and sends its employees to a sniper school. The company has the latest technology, including deep surveillance equipment, a license plate reader and drones. They were forced to leave the state when it was discovered they did not have the proper permits to operate in Wisconsin.
GTAC claims they need security because of an incident with protesters. The unidentified protesters went up to the mine site, yelled at employees about “ruining the fucking water” and an altercation occurred in which a mine employee’s cell phone was stolen.
Paul DeMain, of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band and executive producer of Indian Country TV, said he didn't know who the protesters were and it was really bizarre that these paramilitary guards were brought to protect GTAC because of a stolen cell phone, saying that we don't put armed guards in every area of Wisconsin where there is a cell phone stolen.
At the camp
The traditional harvest camp is held annually. This year it has extended to an indefinite camp and everyone is welcome to stay. Campers, some of who have been at the site since it began, are facing eviction, criminal charges and arrest. The camp is on allotment land, belonging to the Ojibwe based upon treaties that were signed over 150 years ago. The camp is run by members of different Ojibwe tribes including Bad River and Lac Courte Oreilles. It receives funding from the Lac Courte Oreilles and donations that have been flowing in from everywhere in Wisconsin.
A wide range of people visit or stay at the harvest camp. Tours are provided to the mine site so people can experience the beauty of the woods, learn the ecology of the area and see where GTAC has been test drilling since May. After walking nearly a mile through deep, wet mud ruts caused by mining equipment being driven through the forest on a gravel road, you can see a few mining employees doing test drilling.
Iron County and forestry department officials have now stepped in saying the camp is illegal because it is on county-managed land.
The threat of eviction and arrest is just the latest tactic the company and Iron County Officials have used against the campers. A man working for Iron County posted death threats and racist photos through his Facebook account that can be seen here http://wcmcoop.com/2013/07/10/iron-county-defends-employee-gary-gloneks-racist-rants-as-truth/.
In the short time GTAC has been operating in the north woods, they have made friends with county officials and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and enemies of other residents in the area. They are willing to use whatever resource is at their disposal to harass people who are fighting back.
There is a high level of coordination, discipline and organizing between different groups of people in the area who oppose the mine, ranging from participants in the harvest camp to farmers who are worried about what their livestock will drink when the waterways are not usable.
Activists are set for the long haul in the fight against GTAC, a company which has bought off Scott Walker, the DNR and Iron County officials. They will keep organizing resistance to the mine and do not plan on stopping, showing their strength through unity.
GTAC has no interest in the wellbeing of the land, the water or the people that will be negatively impacted by this mine. The company, which also does mountain top removal for coal mining, has shown what they are willing to do to protect their operation.
Activists will continue to fight against GTAC in a battle all too familiar, where a multi-billion dollar company thinks it has the right to pillage the environment, wanting to stay until the resources are gone and leaving economically and environmentally destroyed communities. The strength of community and power of organizing is going to stop this mine from destroying the Penokee hills.