Some Indians find '76 'just another year'

     American Indians are also celebrating this year, but not the bicentennial.
     Area Native Americans have virtually no interest in the 200th birthday of this nation.cUnder the number 25 in the month of June on this year's Native American Calendar is written:
     "Centennial of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, 1876: Battle of the Little Big Horn where thousands of Indians gathered for religious ceremonies were attacked by the 7th Cavalry under Gen. George A. Custer. "He lost. "Have a nice day."
     It is this historical event and not the bicentennial that area Indians, old and young, Chippewa and Winnebago, anticipate recognizing in 1976.
     "For the American Indian to celebrate the bicentennial would be like all Jews celebrating the return to power of Hitler," was the reaction of Alton Smart, a Chippewa who attends Mt. Senario College at Ladysmith.
     To Dorothy Johnson, a Lac Courte Oreilles, 1975 is "just another year."
     And Roy DeLaRose, a Winnebago, asserts the bicentennial is "like celebrating 200 years of injustice."

Cites attitudes of whites

     These young Indians are critical because they believe the original American colonist "thought the Indian was a savage that had to be tamed, and that still is the taught of a lot of whites today," according to Raymond Maday, who lives near Odanah on Lake Superior.
     Young militants?
      Perhaps, but their elders have the same basic attitude regarding the bicentennial.
     Odric Baker, Lac Courte Oreilles tribal chairman who brought that tribe back to militancy when he was elected in the early 1970s, said from his home near Hayward:
     "There's not a damn thing to celebrate. Everything they're celebrating in the course of the bicentennial is something that has been stolen from the Indian."
     Baker's brother, Pat, who lives near New Post on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation, pointed out, "What has happened in this country over the past 200 years is part of the Indians' problem today. We've taken a licking for two centuries and all we really have had is a long line of broken treaties."

Nothing planned

     Gene Taylor, chairman of the St. Croix band of Chippewa Indians in Barron and Polk counties, said: "We have nothing planned; there will not be a bicentennial program on our reservation."
     On the Winnebago reservation, Bernice Whitegull of Black River Falls noted, "I really haven't thought much about it in what you (whites) would consider a positive way. In fact, I wonder what the bicentennial is all about. In my travels I look around and see what the white man has done to northern Wisconsin, and I wonder what it would be like if the white man hadn't come here 200 years ago."
     The Rev. Mitchell Whiterabbit of Hudson, a Methodist minister and chairman of the Wisconsin Winnebago nation, said he had "mixed feelings" about the bicentennial, but he did not embellish individual points.

Theory degrades Indians

     Baker believes, "It's the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) that dictates what should be taught about American Indians in schools today. The melting pot theory degrades everything the American Indian has stood for."
     Leader of more than 400 Chippewas, Baker suggests, "If the United States is based on Christian ethics, then we have to apply the sense of justice and ethics to everybody, even the minorities. But what has happened is this: the bicentennial is a celebration of the taking over of a continent and its resources from the original owners without compensation."
     Baker pointed out, "All this was done through treaties that were made and broken, and what the federal government promised the Chippewas 139 years ago still has not been fulfilled, except that the government offers to pay us for land in 1976 at 1837 prices. No wonder we're poor!"

Would run and hide

     Mrs. Whitegull, a Winnebago and member of Tribal Women of Wisconsin, recalls that as a child she would run and hide when whites came to her grandparents' homes because her ancestors often told of whites forcing Indians to relocate when they wanted Indian lands.
     "To be honest," she said, "I think perhaps the bicentennial should be a time for the Indian to mourn rather than to celebrate. In short, I haven't thought much about the bicentennial in terms of its usual meaning,"
     Mrs. Whitegull suggested, "Maybe whites can use the bicentennial to look at what their 200 years has meant to the American Indian and it then may give them new insight into our problems, so that by the tricentennial all of us can be equals."
     Some Indian students feel that by 2076, the American Indian may be in a stronger social and economic position than he is today because, in the words of Louis Taylor, a Mt. Senerio student, "We are more united than at anytime in a century."

Tribes to receive funding

     While most area Indians are critical of the bicentennial, all area tribes will receive funding for reservation projects.
     The U.S. Department of Commerce has allocated $6,000,000 from Title X funds for the Indian bicentennial programs nationally; nine Wisconsin tribes will split $906,000 of this amount, about $100,000 per tribe.
     Wayne Chattin, director of the Native American program for the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, perhaps uttered an understatement when he remarked in a letter to Mrs. Veda Stone of Eau Claire, a long-time advocate of greater opportunity for the American Indians:

Not fully understood

     "The fact remains that the bicentennial still is not fully understood at the grassroots level in Indian country."
     On the other hand, Chattin, a Blackfoot, believes, "Most of the non-Indian community is not aware of Indian philosophy, statesmanship precepts, creeds and beliefs that permeate our thinking…"
     Only 26 of the nation's 104 Indian tribes have joined in bicentennial activities, with the nine Wisconsin tribes accounting for more than one-third of the total U.S. bicentennial participation.
     The Lac Courte Oreilles will use their $100,000 allocation to build a park and recreation area for tribal children, according to tribal chairman Rick Baker.
     St. Croix Chippewas in northwestern Barron County were passed over again in allocation of monies, but Tribal Chairman Eugene Taylor said the tribe's application was lost. He expects the grant to be approved.

Mark grave sites

     St. Croix Indians, who have the smallest reservation of any Wisconsin Indian tribe because its leaders did not participate in 1854 treaty negotiations with the federal government when reservation lands were distributed, intend to use bicentennial money to develop a campground and restore cemeteries. Currently, more than 40 burial sites, each containing from 10 to 50 Indian graves, are scattered throughout the two-county reservation. Many have fallen victim to the plow. Sites will be marked and preserved with bicentennial funds.
     Winnebagoes in Jackson County will use their allocation to improve ceremonial dance grounds.
     Will 1976 Indian attitudes regarding the bicentennial prevail in 2076?

Could be stronger

     Baker speculates that 100 years hence the Indian may be stronger "if real Indian values are maintained. If we're going to look 100 years to the tricentennial, we'll have to decide if the American people are going to stand around with their hands in their pockets watching Indian life deteriorate, or if they will extend their philosophy of justice to the Indian community, too."
     Taylor had similar thoughts, contending, "The Indian's status by 2076 will depend on how well the white community understand Indian heritage. If there is real comprehension of Indian problems, we'll improve our lot."

--Tom Lawin

Extracted from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.

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