Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula sticks its rounded thumb out into Lake Superior more than 100 kilometres east of the tip of the lake at Duluth, Minnesota.
A 22-island archipelago sits just off to the north and east end of it.
Of “the Apostles,” the only permanently inhabited island today is called Madeline Island.
Aboriginal peoples found the peninsula’s shores and woodlands attractive as a seasonal stop in their annual round.
The Anishinaabe held sway in this boreal border land with the Sioux predominating in the dry oak savannah of Minnesota to their southwest and the Menominee to the southeast when the first Europeans arrived.
The French penetration of the heartland of the continent was well underway by the early 17th century. Local lore has Etienne Brule there by 1618.
A more substantially corroborated historical record sees Radisson and Groseilliers trading a couple of decades later followed closely by Jesuit missionaries.
Trading posts run by the French, then the North West Company and finally Astor’s American Fur Co. held sequential economic sway over Madeline Island until the 1840s.
Logging and fishing then provided the impetus for settlement for a couple of generations before the island settled into its present day tourist economy.
Wealthy families from Midwest states discovered this cool haven from urban heat and humidity in the 1890s.
Family estates line the more valuable lakeside properties.
The further from the water you are the more affordable the land becomes. Most experience the island, though, only as a day-trip destination.
A half-hour ferry ride to and from Bayfield, Wisconsin costs $20; a bike rental is $30 a day, according to my niece Mazie who works at the local rental shop.
The cool water and views of Lake Superior are free.
The tale I have learned of Madeline Island is a familiar one. Who pays? Who profits?
First the furbearing animals were trapped out then the people who came to rely on the trade found themselves marginalized without land or livelihood.
The timber and fishery and their resource dependent communities followed the same course as unsustainable harvests eroded their economic viability. Now seasonal, part-time, benefitless jobs dominate the local economy.
Throughout our 11-state swing we heard story after story from friends and kin alike of people being treated like disposable commodities.
The system here seems geared to generate profit, not build healthy, secure communities.
From a professor who just found out that his wife will be dropped from his university health-care policy after his retirement, to a nurse who realizes that she will be forced to stay at a physically demanding job long after her body has told her to stop because of her fear of losing medical coverage, the US health-care system epitomizes this malady.
A self-employed carpenter here on Madeline Island with a wife and two children knows they can’t get sick. They must pay $1,100 a month for a $5,000-deductible health insurance policy.
A senior citizen with the highest level of federal Medicare writes a monthly cheque for supplemental care equal to 20 per cent of her pension income.
A teacher in Chicago will work past her retirement date to keep a health plan until she qualifies for basic government assistance. The stories go on and on.
Absolutely everyone has one.
The central thesis of Michael Moore’s film Sicko sets out that fear of losing the little, high-cost security that they do have keeps many people from demanding the alternatives that they know exist.
The powers that profit from the current status quo which sees tens of millions of American citizens left without any medical coverage at all certainly aren’t interested in change.
They share a direct ethical lineage with the robber barons of the 1800s and the corporate-monopolists of the 1900s who treated people, their communities and the environment as disposable resources for their personal plundering.
Campaign-dollar dependent politicians willingly act as their accomplices.
Our neighbours know better than to blindly accept a system like this. They just have to learn not to be afraid of demanding the needed changes.
As well, as witnesses to this sick tale we can’t allow our own system to fall prey to the siren call of greed and self interest.