HURLEY — More than 70 people attended Tuesday’s Iron County Board of Supervisors meeting in relation to the county possibly taking criminal or civil action against a camp of protestors near a proposed iron mine site in Upson, Wis.
The Harvest Camp is set up through the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe near Hayward, Wis. The tribe sent a letter to board chairman Joe Pinardi asking to go back to the bargaining table to find a way to allow the camp to stay.
The camp has been peaceful, with around 2,000 people having visited the site since it was first established in late May or early June, according to camp spokesman Paul DeMain.
Pinardi said going back to the bargaining table would be the “right thing to do.”
Issues were raised about the camp due to the indefinite amount of time it would be there, as well as health concerns.
According to supervisor Jim Lambert, of Mercer, Wis ., Iron County health officer Zona Wick and representatives from the state inspected the site and “everything was fine.”
Many people spoke in support of the camp during public comment. Eileen Potter, of Montreal, spoke about stereotypes she had heard about Native Americans as a child.
“I was scared going to the camp by myself, but I was greeted by a Native man who welcomed me,” Potter said. “It was wonderful.”
Potter said she has returned many times to the camp, has made new friends and has found a “sense of peace” there.
“People are worried about what a handful of Native Americans are doing, but yet they roll out the red carpet for those trying to blow that land up to line their pockets with more money,” Potter said.
Mercer resident Jeff Wilson asked the board to sit down with the camp officials and “work it out,” while LCO tribal vice chairman Russell Barber offered a gift in the “spirit of cooperation,” a bag of tobacco.
“To hear you speak about coming back to the table is good words to our ears,” Barber said. “Everyone has their own personal opinions about mining, but in the spirit of cooperation, thank you.”
After the public comment, Pinardi recommended to the board the matter be referred back to the forestry committee to see if a large group gathering permit could be obtained through negotiations with the tribe.
A motion was passed unanimously in support of Pinardi’s recommendation.
According to DeMain, it was a “very good move” on the board’s part.
“I hope that we can come to an agreement,” DeMain said. “When the forestry committee came to us, I thought that it was laying a foundation for progressive relations between the county and the tribe. I was very impressed with how many people, despite our opposition to the mine, spoke for the camp saying we have a legitimate role in exercising our beliefs there. All of this is so that when we look back down the path 100 years from now, we know we left something sustainable for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
Stumpage, or the income from cutting timber on county land, as of Tuesday was $1,201,009, compared to $775,100 at this time last year.