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Tribe remembers elder who fought with dignity
A Red Cliff Chippewa Band elder passed away this week. But this quiet man who made his voice heard in civil rights and natural resources is being mourned across Wisconsin. Mike Simonson reports.
The issue could be storing nuclear waste in northern Wisconsin, recovering mystery military barrels from Lake Superior, mining the Penokees or treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather, Leo LaFernier was on it. Theresa Peacock says her dad believed in protecting the land and water for all people.
“If that’s taken away, our resources, how do we expect our generation and generations after that, to survive without that.”
Son-in-law, or son as he prefers, Joe Peacock, says LaFernier inspired him to get into the Air Borne Rangers by his example of service to people.
“Whether it be the community or the country or the world at large, he inspired me to reach new heights.”
LaFernier was with Jesse Jackson pushing for civil rights while he lived in Chicago and was a tribal ambassador to Germany. Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission Director Jim Zorn says he quietly but determinedly fought for treaty rights.
“But in a much bigger way to help understand that what good are those rights if either the fish are too contaminated to eat or the habitat is so destroyed that the natural resources are not there for you in the future.”
Zorn says he considered LaFernier the commission’s fire keeper.
“Whenever I see a fire, a campfire or otherwise, Leo will be there (pause) with me.”
To the Red Cliff community, son-in-law Roscoe Holmes says he was Uncle Leo. “So he was in everybody’s mind, everybody’s uncle and related to everyone in the community. He worked to help the community as well as across Indian Country.”
LaFernier’s daughter Gerri Holmes says he never quit learning and never stopped giving a hand. “He was always learning, you know, something new that he was always doing in his life. Most important I think for him when he was younger was taking care of the environment and the Indian people here and throughout the country.”
Granddaughter Denise Carlson says he called his family his babies. “And when he would tell you that, he would snuggle with you and hug you as he was saying it. And of course, all of his babies were the babies of the house.” Then she laughs. “But one in particular holds the reins. Her name is Misty Morningstar.”
Misty is one of many descendants. LaFernier leaves behind 10 children, 21 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren. He was 80.
His funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the Red Cliff Youth Center.
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