July 7, 2013 By Nick Vander Puy
“The idea of the harvest camp in the Penokees is to become all of what there is by being there.” Paul DeMain (Oneida)
About ten miles east of Mellen, Wisconsin right off Highway 77 on Moore Park Rd four streamers (red, white, black and yellow) beckon the people to visit. Walk or motor up the road towards the maple and ironwood stand, stroll into camp past the eagle feather, bundles of sage and tobacco offerings past the large wood stove heated canvas wall tent and gaze out on the wigwams in the woods.
It’s early summer. There are bunches of wild onions drying in a lodge. Stop by the fire and rest a spell. You’ll be greeted by host Melvin Gaspar (Ojibwe) who bears a striking resemblance to the storied and fabled Sasquatch. Don’t shy away though. There’s deer meat and wild rice simmering in a kettle…he’ll welcome you to fill your bowl. We don’t lock up the food out in the bush.
After lunch you might hike down to the Tyler Forks River with guide Felina LaPointe (Ojibwe) She moves through the fair. The river is graced with cedar. This is brook trout heaven. I see fins and tails dimpling the surface Sit by one of the rushing shoots to get mesmerized. Pretty soon you’ll enter the slip stream.
Follow Felina past the emerging Dutchman’s britches and bloodroot up towards the maple ridges. She’ll take you on the old Ironton native trail and show you Anishinaabe ridge which on a clear day you can see Birch Hill and even Washburn. She doesn’t use a compass. Compasses don’t work here any way because this is iron ore country. She moves through intuition. Eventually, she’ll lead you down the ridge to the Frybread Compound which is the quietest place I’ve ever visited and a portal into deeper world.
She wears a wears a sheathed bowie knife for life in the woods. She knows where she’s been, who she is and where she’s going. Like most women in this camp she reminds me of the warrior Katniss Everdeen from the movie “The Hunger Games.” We’re being transformed into District twelve for mining.
This territory which you’re walking and singing through is slated to become the largest iron ore mine in North America.
I’ve known the other camp founder Paul “Scabewis” DeMain (Oneida) since our fight in the late ‘eighties for treaty rights against the State of Wisconsin. I’ve worked for DeMain as a reporter at the publication “News from Indian Country.” He is my friend (niiji) and fellow protector of the earth.
During the devastating breakup of my second marriage DeMain sent me to participate in traditional ceremonies at the Bear River in Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin. For four days we danced and listened to teaching from elders all over Turtle Island. I got an opportunity to visit with faithkeeper Oren Lyons (Onondaga) around the fire.
We immediately connected about fishing small mouth bass with French spinners and rapala lures.
Lyons told me about one of the first treaties between his people the Haudonashonee and the Anishinaabe in southern Ontario. One dish, one spoon. maada’oonidiwag onaagan It acknowledged the shared hunting territories and ecological connections between their territories.
Both parties had responsibilities to maintain the dish. It did not give one party the right to invade, to colonize, to commit acts of genocide or to assimilate.
After I told this story several years ago on tribal radio station WOJB a Lac Courte Oreilles elder gave me a hand carved basswood bowl and spoon.
I plan to use this dish the next year out at the harvest camp in the Penokees.