NEWSPAPER ARTICLE ON LCO CONDITIONS - April 20, 1923
Indian Leader Sees Bloodshed
From: Milwaukee Journal – April 20, 1923
Fears Braves, “Crushed by White Rule” Will Fight for Vote
By Staff Correspondent of the Journal
Reserve, Wis.—Once he was a warrior and hunter,
free to roam the vast lands that he owned, skilled and physically fit for
any feat or act of heroism necessary for the preservation of his tribe.
Today he is a ward of the government, loaded down with bureaucracy; his identity crushed by paternalism, in many cases the victim of tuberculosis, with no community wanting his vote if he is fortunate enough to have one.
These are the pictures they draw for you up here on the Lac Courte Oreilles Indian Reservation, where the last of the Chippewa’s have their home.
There is much agitation and feeling between the Indians and the whites in Sawyer County, which, according to some, may lead to regrettable occurrences unless they are expelled.
Leader Seeks New Deal
The Reverend Phillip Gordon, full-blooded Indian priest, and head of the Reserve Indian Mission, is the leader of a new deal for the Indian. He has battled with the Indian Bureau in Washington and got nowhere. Now, he is engaged in an effort to get state legislation for the relief of his people.
The immediate question here is the creation, or rather, the recreation, of the Township of Reserve out of the territory, which live most of the Indians who have a vote. More than a decade ago the tribe had its own town, with Indian officers. But the Indians, it was charged, where none too careful about the legality of the orders they drew or whether their bank account was large enough to cover their checks.
As a result there was trouble with bankers in this vicinity and in 1917 the legislature abolished the township. A gerrymander resulted. The little village of Reserve was made a part of three townships, with the nearest polling place 12 miles away. Some Indians are compelled to travel 40 miles to exercise their rights as citizens.
Fears Bloody Vote Fight
In the breaking up of the town of Reserve, the towns of Couderay, Radisson, Hunter and Hayward got most of the taxable timber lands of the Indians, while the town of Sand Lake got the Indian vote. There are enough Indian votes to out vote the whites in Sand Lake and this has caused ill feelings. Truckloads of Indians are brought from Reserve to Stone Lake to cast their ballots.
In the fight that Father Gordon is making at Madison for a bill to give the Indians there own town once more. Sand Lake Township, anxious to get rid of its Indian votes, is aiding the movement. Couderay, Radisson, Hunter and Hayward are opposing. They do not want to give up the taxes from the Indian lands, it is charged.
The Reverend Father John of Stone Lake, who is familiar with the Indian conditions, fears that the situation will some day lead to bloodshed between Indians and whites unless action is taken. He is in favor of the Indians having their own local government, and says it is intolerable that the white population of Sand Lake Township should be out-voted.
Father Gordon wants still other help from the state. To him the Indian problem goes far deeper that a question of local political government freedom. He arraigns the administration of the Federal Indian Bureau and wants concurrent legislation by the state of Wisconsin that will give him power to call the state heath authorities to check disease and the local district attorney to stop vice.
Indians Sick as a Race
“The Indians, as a race, are sick,” says Father Gordon. “They are poor, amazingly, incredibly poor, which means susceptibility to disease because of poor powers of resistance. Then there is under-nourishment. Tuberculosis is prevalent, because it thrives where hunger is found. Physical impairment means economic poverty. Now, imagine this condition obtaining and for its relief an inadequate and very often inefficient medical service.”
“The United States Government through its congress enacted laws to correct the appalling situation, but laws mean only so much as the executive branch of the injects into enforcement and interpretation. The laws of the Indians fill volumes; the list of executive officers charged with enforcement runs into the thousands. This has developed into an intense bureaucratic from of supervision over the Indians that emphasizes the very conditions marked for eradication. The Indian is paternalized to death. Self-reliance, self-dependence and self-sacrifice, all are destroyed by the virus of paternalism: Initiative and ambition perish.
Father Gordon charges that the real facts about the working of the Indian Bureau have not been made public; that congressional investigating committees have done nothing; that the federal medical service is unable to cope with the tubercular situation; that law and order conditions are bad, with bigamy practiced in many cases: that estates of Indians who died 40 years ago are just now being settled.
Graveyards Are Flooded
The latest phase of the Indian difficulty is the construction of the immense reservoir in Sawyer County, by which part of the Indian Reservation is flooded. The Indians protested violently, but the work went on. Now Indians graves and sacred spots, says Father Gordon, are underwater.
The citizenship status of the Indians is involved in the maze of legal decisions. In general, when the Indians proved up his allotment of land and has taken up residence separate and apart from his tribe he becomes a citizen. But there are Indians at Reserve whose brothers died in France and who themselves saw service overseas. These veterans are not yet citizens and this has added to the feeling here.
Father Gordon believes that if he can get state action he can work out a program on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation that will mean a new day for the Indian in America. He is directly an apostle of the doctrine of self-development. He doesn’t want the Indian regarded as a child.
Mrs. O.J. Little, Stone Lake, who came to the region 13 years ago, believes that the Indians should have assistance at once. She is a former schoolteacher and has offered to give the Indians instruction in civic affairs to fit them for local self-government.
The new church, which Father Gordon is erecting at Reserve, is pointed to with pride by the village. A year ago the small structure that housed his mission was burned. He went over the country and raised $23,000 with which he is erecting a beautiful log and stone church.