Paul Demain Discusses Status Of "Harvest Camp"

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Paul Demain Discusses Status Of "Harvest Camp"

Premiere Date: 
August 1, 2013

Paul Demain of Lac Courte Oreilles talks about the status of the "Harvest Camp."

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Finally tonight, a trip up north to Iron County, home to the Gogebic mine site as well as what's known as the harvest camp set up by the Lac Courte Oreilles band of the Ojibwa. The camp was established last May as a way to educate Indian and non-Indian people of the tribe's tradition and treaty rights to hunt, gather and fish in the Penoke Hills. The tribe believes the mine threatens the quality of the environment there. On Tuesday, the Iron County board voted to work with the Lac Courte Oreilles to keep the harvest camp up and running. Paul Demain is a member of the Wisconsin Oneida Nation and spokesperson for the Lac Courte Oreilles band. He joins us from the Lac Courte Oreilles Community College and thanks very much for doing so.

Paul Demain:

Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

Well, as we just mentioned, the Iron County board this week called on its Forestry Committee, as I understand it, to work out a way for the harvest camp to stay in the forest. And that action seems to kind of prevent your placement there from coming to a head. What is your reaction to the board's action?

Paul Demain:

Well, I think it's a very progressive move. I think it takes some of the growing conflict that had been occurring with rhetoric from both camps out of the system, and I think lets some cooler heads sit down at the table and try to work out all the nuances of what the argument was. And that's got to do with local county control over forests versus accessibility to resources that are harvested by treaty harvesters in the ceded territory in northern Wisconsin. I think it’s as progressive as the original resolution, which was originally adopted by the Forest and Parks Committee 5-0, which authorized the original resolution from the tribe, only to have that sidetracked on some legal issues and clarifications that definitely needed to take place. So I see it as a very positive move.

Frederica Freyberg:

What is the point of your harvest camp?

Paul Demain:

Well, there are lots of points. Number one, we've always had historically harvesters in that region and part of the Bad River Reservation is in Iron County, so we have citizens that are part of that county government system there in northern Wisconsin. In addition, we have harvesters throughout that area that come and go and travel. And we thought it would be an opportunity to utilize the resources in that area. Number one, if there's going to be a mine, it makes sense that we harvest as many of the products and resources out of that area as we can before we, you know, turn everything into overburden on a big pile. There are antioxidant plants, there's birch bark, there's wild onions, all kinds of harvestable products that should be taken out. You wouldn't tear down a house with all the furniture in it. However, our elders sincerely believe that there will never be a mine in that area, citing a whole litany of reasons why they are beyond having the mine there. And so, we want to show that there is a sustainable, long-term economy both in tourism, arts and crafts and harvestable products that can contribute to that area, be it for 1,000 years rather than an extractive industry that may come and go in the next 20.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, at Tuesday's board meeting, one board member said that your camp was not a treaty rights issue, but instead just a protest against the mine. But there is a distinction?

Paul Demain:

Well, there is a distinction. That was one of the supervisors by the name of James Lamberg, who I've come to respect greatly, because he doesn't pull any punches. He says how he sees it. The issue of the harvest camp was voted on on May 14 and the last question was asked by him, what is your position on the mine. I said again that we're beyond the mine ever being there. And so we want to harvest. It is related to harvestable rights, because in the long run, the quality of those harvestable rights, whether it's fish, plants and everything, is going to be removed if there is an open pit mine in the area, if it affects the water quality. So while it's not a treaty rights issues per se, it is a treaty rights issues because the reason the tribes are there is hopefully to communicate with the neighbors about our concerns about water aquifers, air quality and those kinds of things. So we can go in a round circle on this issue about it not being a treaty rights issues and being a mine protest, or we can say that we're beyond that and we're trying to protect the resources from damage by this potential open pit mine. But those are the kinds of discussions we really need at the table in a calm atmosphere.

Frederica Freyberg:

When you say that you're beyond a mine being there, are you suggesting that you don't believe a mine will ever be there, or that you are trying to make your peace going forward with the mine being there?

Paul Demain:

Our elders have advised us that there never will be a mine in that area because of all the environmental concerns having to do with air, water and resource quality. So in a way some of us are operating beyond the idea that there will even be a mine. But I think fundamentally what we have to do is educate a community, as I see it, that hasn't had that conversation. The neighbors and friends and relatives in Iron County that we've come in contact with at the harvest camp are not the kind of people who go to political meetings. Many of them don't vote. They're not there to make $73,000 a year. They're really there in Iron County because it's a survival type of atmosphere in which people make it and work together. They're more inclined to want to make enough money to patch their maple syrup pan than to try to make a big wage. So I think we're giving voice to people and other things like animals and plants in the forest that haven't been part of the conversation and trying to give them some voice.

Frederica Freyberg:

Paul Demain, thanks very much for joining us.

Paul Demain:

Thank you.

Frederica Frebyerg:

The DNR will hold a public hearing on the Gogebic Taconite bulk sampling activity. That hearing is set for August 15 at the Hurley High School. It's from 10:00 in the morning until 8:00 p.m. 


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