By Nick Vander Puy
Roscoe Churchill wasn’t a United States military combat veteran, but he served as a general in the late 20th century Manufacturers Resource War against the Earth. Churchill fought on the side of responsible government, clean water, fertile soil, untainted fish, wild rice, and big trees. The anti-mining activist died this month at the age of 90.
Roscoe was a true son of Wisconsin. For the past 30 years Roscoe united conservationists,Native American tribes, sport fishing groups, some trade unionists and students into a community (one might even describe it as a tribe) resisting a mining district in northern Wisconsin. Hundreds of these folks showed up in Ladysmith to say goodbye to Roscoe and re-affirm their connection and a memorial service we called a “Fond Farewell.”
Sandy Lyon, a community organizer who also happens to be my wife, often jokes, “Roscoe and Evelyn Churchill ruined my ordinary life.” Sandy, Evelyn and Roscoe, sitting around the Churchill’s farm kitchen in the mid-‘90s, came up with a challenge for the multi-national mining companies: “Show us a successfully reclaimed metallic sulphide mine that hasn’t polluted the water.” The mining companies never could, and in 1998 the Wisconsin Legislature and Governor Tommy Thompson enacted the Churchill Mining Moratorium bill. Because of the bill, which would not have passed without the fierce and sustained activism of a broad and diverse coalition consisting of thousands of people who care about the earth,Wisconsin remains the one of least attractive political climate for mining in North America.
Artist Judy Gosz brought cedar from the Stockbridge Munsee reservation and dozens and dozens of pies to Roscoe’s farewell. Roscoe loved stopping for pie. Our daughters Annie and Sage passed small cedar branches to everyone in the circle. Judy’s husband-folksinger Skip Jones opened the gathering with a song by Kate Wolf called “Gentle Warrior.” Roscoe was known widely as the kind and gentlemanly warrior from rural Wisconsin.
We were transformed once again by the ceremony into one heart and mind, remembering the lyrics from Kate Wolf’s song Gentle Warrior:
there are none of us
who walk this path alone.
We are crying for a vision
That all living things
And those who care
Are with us everywhere.
The heartbeat of the movement, the drum from Mole Lake, sat in the middle with tribal judge Fred Ackley and the other Anishinaabe singers. Songs on this drum, during the mining moratorium rallies, called in an eagle over the state capital building. Eagle flight over the capital had not been seen in modern times.
February 27, 2007
Nick Vander Puy is lead producer for the Superior Broadcast Network in northern Wisconsin.