Written by Martha Barry, Chief Racial Justice Officer, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
November is Native American/Alaska Native Heritage Month. Saturday, November 16 is International Day for Tolerance.
As we think about those two different items, my attention is drawn to connecting and thinking about Native people. In what now constitutes the boundaries of Wisconsin, Native people were connected to the land, its resources and its bounty. Conscious of how sacred this planet and the earth is, to all of us, and particularly to Native people, how do those of us identified as non-Native think about our connection to the land and the soil on which we live? How do we move beyond tolerance to full connection to our planet and all that she provides?
While the first known inhabitants of the Milwaukee area were likely Paleo-Indians who arrived at the end of the Ice Age (10,000 years ago), the Native tribes who frequented Southeastern Wisconsin were Menominee, Fox, Sauk, Potawatomi, Ojibwe and Ho-Chunk. Tribes have fought hard to maintain their sovereignty and self-determination. How would Wisconsin look today if Native people were allowed to maintain their connections to each other, their culture and traditions, and the land?
Current tribes play important roles in environmental issues around our state. While climate change shifts weather patterns, melting glaciers and rising sea levels, we count on native people to remind us of the sacredness of land. Patty Loew, a Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe member, is a professor at UW-Madison who updated her book Indian Nations of Wisconsin, to focus on stories, songs and Native oral traditions. Loew said that “many tribes’ traditional religions are nature-based and involve praying for the land and its resources. … when it comes to issues like mining or loss of wild rice beds, it can be difficult to explain to some legislators. Explaining that a patch of wild rice is as holy to some Indians as traditional church symbols like steeples or stained glass can be a challenge.”
Consider your understanding and appreciation of the land and the role of Native tribes in Wisconsin. How many Native people do you know? How do their lives shape your beliefs and values? How do we move from seeing Native people as a relic from the past to celebrating Native perspectives today? Check out these resources to broaden your perspectives: Native News Online.Net; Indianz.com; National Native News.