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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 1, 2001 - Issue 50


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Day Touches Indians, Regrettably


GRESHAM - Clarence Chicks harbors no resentment about the Lutheran mission school he attended as a youngster in Shawano County, a school that ignored his American Indian heritage.

Chicks, 84, a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee band of the Mohicans, proudly describes the restoration of the three-story, yellow brick school that operated from 1908 to 1958. Emmanuel Mohican Lutheran Church Mission School is now used for church services in winter months and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This Thanksgiving Day, as the nation recalls the first feast that brought together Native Americans and European settlers, not all American Indians share Chick's positive views about the mission schools. For some, the schools and the holiday are a reminder of a culture they lost and are struggling to regain.

Gina Kent of Lac du Flambeau said her grandmother was forced to attend the Indian Agency School in a building that still stands in the community.

"They basically stripped them of everything, their culture and their language," said Kent, an employee at the George W. Brown Jr. Museum and Cultural Center in Lac du Flambeau. "The children were almost beaten so they wouldn't speak their language."

Only nine or 10 adults in the Lac du Flambeau tribe are fluent in Ojibwe, the tribal language, she said.

But American Indians have more opportunities now to learn about the heritage of their people, said Dylan Prescott, home-school liaison at the Central Wisconsin Indian Center in Wausau. He often speaks to classrooms around Thanksgiving time, and he said powwows provide learning opportunities practically every weekend in the summer.

Wisconsin's American Indians of all generations have an increased pride in their heritage, said Prescott, a Ho-Chunk who is 24.

It wasn't always that way. The official policy of the U.S. government in the late 1800s and into the 1900s was to discourage American Indian youngsters from speaking their language or dressing traditionally. The practice, generally considered well-meaning at the time, was one of forced assimilation: "Save the child and kill the Indian."

Laws of the time required American Indian children to attend mission schools run by either the Great Lakes Indian Agency or by a church. These children were given haircuts and were outfitted in uniforms. Photos show them dancing around a May Pole instead of learning the dances of their ancestors.

Chicks wishes the adults of his youth had put a higher priority on maintaining the Mohican language and culture, but he's not bitter about his experience or the dormitory where other American Indian children lived apart from their families.

Government-run schools were harsher, he said, than the one he graduated from in 1931 as an eighth-grader.

Chicks walked two miles each way from his family's farm to join the all-Indian contingent of boarding students. His parents hardly knew any of the Mohican language themselves, so teachers in the four-room school didn't have to forbid Chicks to use the language when he was with his 120 classmates.

The children who went to the mission school had a white pastor, white teachers and a few white classmates from area farms. Their lessons were the same as what would have been taught in an all-white school.

Chicks, whose son, Bob, is now the tribal chairman of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohicans, said he recalls no conscious effortto suppress their culture. The teachers just didn't go into it.

In his retirement, Chicks is learning more about tribal history and related topics. And he does not fault the school for his failure to learn Mohican.

"I never heard it spoken at home or at my grandfather's," he said, "which is too bad."

Wisconsin tribes
Eleven Native American tribes have reservations in Wisconsin.
They are, in order of population,
the Oneida, the six branches of the Chippewa, the Menominee, the Ho-Chunk, the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohicans and the Potawatomi.
In some cases, tribal lands are scattered among a number of counties. The Chippewa reservations are governed by the Bad River band, the Lac du Flambeau, the Lac Courte Oreilles, the Red Cliff, the St. Croix and the Sokaogon.
Native Americans make up less than 1 percent of Wisconsin's population, according to the "Wisconsin Blue Book."

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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