Dispatch from the Penokee Hills

December 2, 2013  by Mel Gasper

Mel Gaspar in front of dream catcher wreaths at the HELP camp on Thanksgiving. Photo courtesy of Ros Nelson.

Mel Gasper in front of dream catcher wreaths at the HELP camp on Thanksgiving. Photo courtesy of Ros Nelson.

Booshoo, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Mel Gasper. I’m a Lac Courte Oreilles tribal member from Hayward, Wisconsin. I’m the administrator for the HELP project (Harvest Educational Learning Project) located on Moore Park Road near Mellen, Wisconsin. I have been here in the Penokee Mountain Range since March 3 of 2013.

What am I doing here? I’ve been told I’m camping illegally and blocking access to the forest, littering the forest, etc.

Who has told me this? Joe Vairus (Iron County forester) Gary Glonek (Iron County forester) both of whom serve at the pleasure of the Iron County Board, and Bill Williams (GTac director).

I am here under my Native Treaty rights of 1842 to harvest and gather on ceded territory. I respect the land, air and water and all that our Creator has given us. We don’t litter here, we don’t block access to anyone, we’ve had approximately 5,000 people come through this project and no one has been turned away. We take people on nature walks and then educate them on aspects of life and how this vast area could sustain living and income for many years to come. On the corporate level, these people come into our beautiful parts of the country and take but don’t give back.

Life is more than taking. We have to give back more than we take. Mother Earth can only take so much of what’s being done to her. We need to look at what’s going on with Nature—the many things that aren’t natural, like storms that are the worst we’ve seen in years, global warming, earthquakes that are happening where they never did before, extinction of plants and animals. The list goes on.

Walking sticks carved by Mel Gaspar ready to use by visitors walking into the hills.

Walking sticks carved by Mel Gasper ready to use by visitors walking into the hills.

Senator Tom Tiffany says we need a 600 ft. buffer zone to keep the workers safe! Who’s going to keep the thousands of people, plants and animals safe from the drastic pollution and poisons that will kill them if this law goes through? It’s people like you and me who will do it, taking steps to keep our air, water and land clean and safe from disaster. Giving our all to see that the children, and their children for many generations to come, will have what’s left of this to cherish and to know that someone wants that beauty to live on.

As I sit in my wigwam at the base of the vast mountain, I thank the Great Spirit, Creator, or whatever your belief, that they’ve given me air with no asbestos particles flying through the countryside causing drastic respiratory problems. I thank them for the clean water with no sulfuric acid in it. I thank them for the beautiful land that gives life to plants and animals.

The circle of life is coming around and we need to look at what’s happening to this great land. We’ve been given all of this beauty to ENJOY, NOT DESTROY. I want to thank everyone for your gracious support to the HELP project and looking to future generations.

Happy Holidays,

Mel Gasper, HELP administrator (Harvest Educational Learning Project)


Click here to donate funds to support the HELP camp with expenses related to perishable food and wood.

If you’re in Madison, donations of the following items can be dropped off at the Victory Cafe, 2710 Atwood Avenue between now and Friday, December 6, 2013: Coleman lantern fuel, AA and D size batteries, tarps, gallon-sized waterproof tupperware containers, insulated socks and long underwear.

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