Above Photo: Elder Art Shegonee of the Menominee speaks about his experiences in a boarding school. Fight Back! News / staff.
Oneida, Wisconsin – On November 9, over 50 people gathered on the Oneida Indian Reservation in northeast Wisconsin to show solidarity with the Oneida people and all indigenous people as a Supreme Court decision regarding the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) looms. The crowd included members of the Oneida Tribal Nation, concerned community members and several organizations that helped facilitate the event. The gathered community members, both tribal and not, were met with hospitality from the Oneida hosts, with homemade corn soup and community-building conversation being shared before the speakers began.
The first speaker had firsthand experience seeing the effects of harsh U.S. policy concerning the children of oppressed groups. As an immigrant, the speaker told of the shared struggle between oppressed groups at the hands of U.S. imperialism. He stressed the need for continued awareness and public action and was met with enthusiasm from the crowd.
Supporters then heard from Attorney Gerald Hill, chief counsel for the Oneida Nation’s legal department and advocate. He spoke of the need for indigenous people protect their children. Hill described the boarding schools of the recent past, where indigenous children taken from their homes and placed in schools where they were subjected to terrible conditions to deprive them of their culture and identity.
Hill was followed by an elder of the neighboring Menominee tribe. Elder Art Shegonee is of Menominee and Potawatomi descent, and he was placed in a boarding school and later outside foster care. He recalled the abuse he suffered under both systems, moving the gathered audience. A reverent silence was filled with his brave telling of the pain that follows systemic abuse. He passionately recalled being separated from multiple siblings in addition to his mother. The ICWA is a critical piece of protection, not only for future generations in keeping Indigenous children within their cultural home, but for Indigenous autonomy as a whole, and he stressed the importance of supporting it.
After a loud round of applause, the rally was closed with a candlelight walk from the speaking venue to a major throughway. With lights burning in the warm November air, the people of this community showed others that they were there to support the ICWA and the right of indigenous people to live free of the fear and pain inflicted by the U.S. in the past. Activists are at work planning follow-up actions in Green Bay and Appleton.