Red Cliff Tribe, Bayfield County, hold historic meeting
By Brandon Thoms
It was a historic night at the Bayfield County Courthouse on Tuesday, December 15th. That’s because it was the first ever joint meeting between the Red Cliff Tribal Council and the Bayfield County Board of Supervisors. The meeting was several years in the making and long overdue.
“This is a historical event. Tonight we grow bigger than our differences and offer to everyone, regardless of our historical rights and wrongs, a friendly welcome and outstretched hand,” said Bayfield County Board Chairman Dennis Pocernich.
“It’s very important to know what our goals are; know how we do business. If we can’t get past that, if we can’t understand it, we can’t move forward,” said Red Cliff Tribal Chairman Bryan Bainbridge, referencing the need to open lines of communication among the two governments. “It all starts with building a bridge. After tonight, hopefully we’ll all have a better understanding of our wants, goals and needs,” continued Bainbridge.
Opening the meeting in Ojibwe custom, Red Cliff Tribal Elder James Pete, or Guyaushk (Seagull in Ojibwe), performed a pipe ceremony and spoke in the Ojibwe language.
“We as Indian people had many things taken from us and we’re recovering from that. It’s important to understand our language, culture and ways have been taken from us,” said Pete. “We base our beliefs on love, humility, courage and respect,” added Pete.
Pete stressed cooperation and pointed out that the tribe has been a good community partner, with many people from surrounding communities utilizing the new Red Cliff Community Health Center.
After a round of introductions by board members from each side, Tribal Attorney Dave Ujke presented an overview of the history of Red Cliff, which included a crash course on federal Indian policy and Indian law.
In turn, John Carlson, Bayfield County Corporation Counsel, provided a brief outline of Bayfield County programs and vital statistics.
According to the presentations, the Tribe is the largest employer in the county, employing 500 people. The county is the second largest employer with just under 200.
After the formalities, discussions took on a more serious tone when Pocernich opened up the floor. The issue of the proposed CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) was raised by Red Cliff Councilman Chris Boyd. “It boggles my mind regarding the County’s position when it comes to CAFOs,” remarked Boyd. Bayfield District 8 Supervisor Fred Strand said the County’s hands were tied when it comes to CAFOs. “The state of Wisconsin has restricted the County’s input,” said Strand. The County currently has a Large Scale Livestock Study Committee, which is tasked with researching, analyzing and synthesizing scientific literature regarding the impact of large-scale livestock facilities on the ground water, surface water and air quality, as they apply to large scale farming operations in Bayfield County.
Strand went on to remind everyone that there is a public hearing this Thursday, December 17th at the County Courthouse and the deadline for submission for the public comment period on CAFOs is December 27th. Breaking from protocol and out of respect for guests in the audience, Pocernich requested permission from the Board to open the floor to public comments from the gallery.
Katherine Morrisseau and Sandy Gokee both of Red Cliff, expressed their displeasure with the Board’s seeming resignation that a CAFO is certainty for the county. Both women appealed to the Board to consider the health and welfare of Lake Superior and the land surrounding it.
Cooperation was a reoccurring theme throughout the hour and thirty minute session. Comments from both sides indicated a willingness to work for the common good of both constituencies.
“I’d like to see us meet twice a year like this: once in the spring and again in the fall,” said Pocernich before adjourning.