Gordon was not alone in his fight for the rights of the Indians.
According to an article in the Minneapolis Journal, May 23, 1925,
"Indians of Wisconsin have been swindled out of millions of dollars
in land and timber, investigators of conditions on the Odanah Reservation
declare, and a thorough investigation of the charges are now under
restoration of the value of the plundered property is demanded if
the evidence reveals irregularities as charged, in a resolution
passed by the legislature, which directed the governor and attorney
general to begin legal action against the federal and state agencies
as may be necessary to accomplish this result."
W. Grady, attorney of Portage, has been retained by the state to
begin the investigation and he has already started the work."
that the Indians have been swindled out of money as a result of
timber cuttings were first brought to public attention by E.P. Wheeler
of Aurora, Illinois. Mr. Wheeler's father was a missionary among
the Indians on the Bad River Reservation in Ashland County
John Collier, U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, said, "The tragic
chapter was not ended, and will not end, save with annihilation,
unless states like Wisconsin move promptly demanding reform in the
federal administration and assuming directly, as states, their own
share of responsibility."
anomaly of the Indian's situation has now been increased. Congress
in June made all Indians citizens of the states. Thus the burden
of educating them, of protecting health, and caring for the indigent
and aged, is thrown mandatorily on the states. But the federal guardianship
over the Indian's person is maintained intact; and the federal trusteeship
over the still enormous Indian estate remains absolute and unregenerate."
tens of thousands of Indians have become, in an inescapable physical
sense, charges upon the states. Now they are made legal charges."
Father Gordon called this the saddest in the long and losing fight
for the Indians for elemental human rights." But there was more
He made another attempt to secure an Indian parish. In a lengthy
letter to the Apostolic Delegate in Washington, D.C., he repeated
the history of Reserve, told of the success of the mission and the
degeneration of the Indians since he left.
The number of comments by way of letters addressed to the writer
from the circle of friends both in the ranks of the clergy and from
devoted lay people asking for information and sometimes even criticizing
his 'desertion' of his Indians is surprising and disquieting and
has a length led hi to compose this letter
fact that causes me the personal grief is that I am an Indian and
am deprived of the opportunity to work for my own. Work in the Indian
mission field is one of the great privations and bitter experiences
because of the childish prejudices, the ignorance, the illiteracy,
the primitive conditions obtaining among Indian people, the lack
of financial support, and the general indifference and apathy of
all concerned. I know all of this and have experienced it. Nevertheless,
I feel so affected by the present conditions that I am quite willing
to forsake all else in life to render succor to the Indians whose
faith is indeed in peril
can say with pride that I have never questioned the judgment of
my bishop, have never inquired into his motive of my transfer, have
never criticized his action in the matter, even though I have often
wondered at his secretive methods, his apparent lack of confidence,
and his securing of information from people who are so openly notorious
and so opposed to things Catholic."
any rate, I do not sincerely believe that all is right in this matter
and it may develop that I am a criminal without knowing it, or it
may be shown that the good judgment of the Bishop of Superior is
indeed superior to the well-known wishes of the present Pontiff,
Pius XI, 'a native clergy for the native people of every land.'"
As to the consequences of this letter, Father Gordon said, "We know
of none attributed directly to this appeal for action and justice."
Although the Indian priest had mellowed with the passing years and
his attitude was not a militant as in the early part of his priesthood,
he could not be reconciled to many of the rules and regulations
imposed by the government. One that irked him particularly in 1926
was the attempted restriction of Indian dances.
The Indians defied the order and Father Gordon continued to have
the Indian dances at his annual parish picnics. He always brought
his Indian friends from the reservation - Johnnie Frog, George James,
Willie Debrot and others.
When plans were made for the third annual picnic, Senator Irvine
L. Lenroot was to be principle guest speaker. The Chippewas familiarly
knew him as A-ka-bi-ji-bik (The Root). Congressman Frear and Ray
J. Nye, of Superior, Federal Prohibition Director, also accepted
Father Gordon's invitation.
He arranged a meeting for the Indians so they could present a petition
to Senator Lenroot against the attempted suppression of the Indian
recreative dances, principally the war dance. He also spoke of this
suppression at an anniversary celebration, which is quoted in the
St. Paul Daily News on August 22, 1926:
"'The American Indian will not abandon the tribal dances, at least
not without stubborn resistance.' This is the opinion of Reverend
Philip Gordon, himself a full-blooded Chippewa, who will conduct
service today, final day of the 19th anniversary in Hazel Park of
the Church of the Blessed Sacrament at White Bear. "
the afternoon program will be several Indian dances about 50 braves
and 80 squaws from the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation in Sawyer
County, Wisconsin. Included among these dances will be some, which
certain officials of the Federal Indian Bureau are seeking to prohibit
on the grounds that their continuance only retards the complete
civilization of the original Americans."
is really no good ground for such a contention,' declared Father
Gordon Saturday night, 'not any more than dancing the waltz or the
Charleston among their white brethren. The different tribal dances
constitute about all there is left to the pleasant day Indians to
connect them with their savage ancestors who roamed the prairies
and the woods of America before the continent was discovered. The
dances are a tradition with them, and are consequently dear to the
heart of every Indian. Some of the dances are ceremonial in nature;
others are indulged in merely for recreation and entertainment,
just as white folks do. The federal government officials are in
for a difficult job if any serious attempt is made to deprive the
Indians of this traditional custom
Father Gordon believed dancing, when properly conducted, was healthy
recreation. He objected to 'late hours, décolleté,
escorting, moonshine, etc.,' and said some of the dances revolting
to every feeling of decency and propriety, but he believed the Indian
dances were no more objectionable than dancing the waltz or Charleston.
The question of Indian affairs arose again when President Calvin
Coolidge chose the Brule River as the spot for his 1928 summer vacation.
Numerous requests came to Father Gordon to use his influence to
have the president meet with delegations of Indians. Some wished
the delegations to be dressed in full Indian regalia. Others thought
only educated Indians, professional and university men, or men or
women who had established themselves in community life should compose
such a delegation.
The president received the group dressed in Indian costumes, but
no provision was made to meet with educated Indians.
There was considerable correspondence covering the matter and Father
Gordon was allowed an interview with Everett Sanders, Secretary
to the President. He was accompanied to the executive offices in
Superior by Father James Fagan of that city, but it seems the secretary
did not want the President to bother himself with Indian affairs
while on vacation and the Indian priest did not get an audience
with the President.
Conditions were the same over the entire United States. The Anaconda
(Montana) Standard carried an article about the same time, June
22, 1928, stating in part:
"The fact that the Republican party's candidate for vice president
has Indian blood in his veins may help to draw public attention
to the present pitiable conditions of many, if not most, of the
350,000 Indians now in the United States. The recent report made
by the Institute for Government Research and given out by the Department
of the Interior, under which it functions, revealed some shocking
facts. Tuberculosis, trachoma, and other diseases, particularly
those of infancy, are prevalent among the Indians, the report states.
Their death rate is high and living conditions poor. They are badly
housed and do not have proper food. They are poverty-stricken and
have not become adjusted to the economic and social life, which
surrounds them. The Indians do not have proper medical attention.
Hospitals are too few and not well equipped or conducted. The staff
of the Indian Bureau is inadequate and underpaid and, in many instances,
improperly trained. Schools are insufficient and poorly administered.
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has taken cognizance of the
report and will conduct an inquiry during the summer with the view
of making specific recommendations to the end that Congress may
act intelligently and justly
The great problem of getting back the lost lands of the Indians
was not touched upon. Many Indians thought the same predatory interests
- lumbering principally - were the chief influences in preventing
disclosure, investigation after investigation failed to bring results.
In 1929 a bill was introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature, which
would have provided the Attorney General of Wisconsin would be empowered
to appoint special attorneys to prosecute the claims of the Indians
in the United States Court of Claims. It was passed by an almost
unanimous vote only to be vetoed by Governor Kohler.
The Congressman wrote Father Gordon urging him to get in touch with
every Indian friend and acquaintance throughout Wisconsin and have
them write to the Assemblyman and State Senator urging them to pass
the bill over the governor's veto.
During the same controversy, lasting two years, was going on with
reference to the action of the representatives of the Wisconsin
State Conservation Commission on entering the U.S. Indian warehouse
and seizing certain hides, including some belonging to George James.
Of course, an investigation was made.