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15 more arrested at gathering

Published Monday, July 1, 2002 1:49:17 PM Central Time

By ANDY HILL

Globe Associate Editor

EWEN -- About 15 people were arrested on various federal charges Sunday as the 2002 gathering of the Rainbow Family continued at a remote site near Ewen.

Meanwhile, the supervisor of the Ottawa National Forest, Bob Lueckel, acknowledged Sunday the family is winning its battle to remain at the old site of the town of Choate, despite the Ottawa's desire to move the gathering.

"Fifteen arrests were made on a group of people who were still in a closed area," said National Forest spokesman Becky Banker, of the agency's Watersmeet-based incident response team. "We have worked with them on numerous occasions to voluntarily leave."

Forest rules call for non-commercial groups larger than 75 to obtain a use permit. The forest has offered an alternate site the Rainbow Family rejected.

Banker said charges for those arrested include being on the illegal site, gathering without a permit and resisting arrest.

"One of the 15 was additionally charged with assaulting a federal officer," she said. "In addition to that, we cited and released about 30 people for basically the same charges."

"We really would have liked them to go to the Whitetail site (the alternate site offered by the Ottawa)," said Cheri Ford, of the incident management team overseeing activities at and hear Choate.

"The Rainbow Family has the advantage of numbers," said Lueckel. 'I think the Rainbow Family is pretty much entrenched."

Lueckel, Ford, Banker and other National Forest representatives were at the Ironwood Memorial Building Sunday evening for an informational meeting. Other than two Rainbow Family members, the head of the two-county Family Independence Agency and city commissioner Jim Peterson, the meeting was not attended by the public.

Early suggestions the gathering would grow to more than 20,000 clearly were overstated. Lueckel said no one really knows how many Rainbow Family members are at Choate.

"It's an educated guess that there's 3,500," he said.

While the Ottawa deems the gathering illegal, the rules are not Lueckel's top concern.

"I wouldn't emphasize the rules as much as the site," he said. "The water table is high. You have the elements of an old town site there. There's a concern about the water table being polluted by human waste and gray water. The cumulative effect of that is not acceptable.

"Our best alternative was this whitetail deer management site."

"That site was unsuitable," said Charles Winslow, a Rainbow Family member who goes by the nickname Badjer. "It didn't have water for immersion."

Badjer and a female member of the family were in Ironwood. Badjer said he is unable to camp at the Choate site because of a citation he earlier received, but is camping at Robbins Lake and visiting the Choate site daily.

He said he has no real argument with the Ottawa leadership or staff, but was critical of law enforcement activity at the site, which, he said, is jeopardizing the health and safety of the gathering.

He said a truck bringing fresh water to the children's site was forced to dump its load. In addition, needed supplies and medicine are being held up when people leave the site and aren't allowed to return, or face a ticket of they do.

"It's an illegal gathering," said Lueckel. "That's why you see law enforcement out there. We have no comment about the politics of those who gather. That's not an issue of ours."

"We have three objectives," said Banker. "The very first one of these objectives is health and safety. We do a lot of work with this group. The vast majority are good folk."

The Daily Globe was unable to confirm a rumor that a toddler suffered severe burns after falling into a campfire, or a second rumor of a still birth at the site. Banker said she hadn't heard either report.

Banker said a recent discovery has given the National Forest an added concern.

"They found shotgun ammunition in the (Choate) camp," said Banker. "They were very concerned that the weapon itself was hidden in the woods nearby."

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