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Updated: Mar 8

By Joe Moreno

Writer for the LCO News

It was on a mid-summer day that a boy who would later in life become affectionately known as Johnny Boy Corbine, was born in Duluth Minnesota. Even though everyone calls him “Johnny Boy” to this day, there’s much more than a boy behind this man. This is his story….

Having grown up in Skunawung on the LCO reservation, he has many cherished memories of his childhood. Many took place in the house his brother Marvin Corbine still lives in on Highway E.

Johnny Boy recalls, “I grew up in Skunawung where my brother Marvin lives. Let’s see, there were about three houses on that one side that had families in them: there was my Mom, Clay Gouge, then there were a couple of other little houses around, the ones we had were government houses, then there’d be the ones built in the 80’s. Man! There’d be likenine kids in a one-bedroom house, and that was all over the place, some houses had two teen kids.”

From Skunawung he would often venture to the Community Hall in Reserve where he would partake in such activities as basketball and roller skating, amongst many others. He also recalls having whole ball games in the middle of the road.

“We would have whole ball games in the neighborhood, we’d have 7, 10 innings without any interruptions from cars,” Johnny Boy said.

Afterwards, naturally everyone would be hungry, so they either went home to eat, or if you had enough money saved up, they'd buy hot dogs and marshmallows for the fires that would cook their meals on the beaches, he explained.

Other activities included building salt licks for their hunts. He said they’d go build some salt licks by the water and the deer would come lick the salt, then go drink water, lick salt, drink water.

“We’d hunt them you know. We’ve been hunting since we were 12 years old, walkin’ around with guns when we were kids, you know. We would eat squirrels, porcupine, partridge, whatever we’d shoot, we’d eat’m all up, it was all good meat,” Johnny Boy shared. “When I think about it now, that meat was way better, it’s all natural, you know. No antibiotics and stuff like that.”

Then there were his younger days which involved trips to Grindstone Lake.

“Man! I remember that lake down by Gerry’s (Miller), that was Grindstone, back when I first started going out to the lake, I was about eleven or twelve, I used to ride along on the spearing and stuff. I remember going out to the ledges, by the deep, you see the rocks that go down like that, then there’d be a ledge, the water was that clear, you could see pretty deep down in there, and you should of seen the fish that were laying on the ledges; great big humongous muskie laid out. You couldn’t reach down there with a spear.”

He humorously recalls the caution he aired with during his fishing trips: “There were some nice fish in there but, if I speared one of them, they might take me with them, they were bigger than I was!”

He said he saw some fish out there that made what they call ‘The World Record Muskie’ out in the Moccasin Bar, not the biggest fish out there. He said he saw fish way bigger than that at about 90 pounds, “great big ole bullet head that would swallow a small dog.”

When they started their sugar bush, it was his mom that would say ‘you guys should do a sugar bush, you guys ain’t got nothing to do in the spring waiting for spearing.’

Johnny Boy said he remembers getting to go out where they went into the sugar bush, but because he was so young they wouldn’t let him go to the sugar bush because it was too far back.

“Back then my Grandpa and them had a Sugar Bush down in Green Lake down there, they used to walk down the south side of the lake, back on the hills, and that’s where the Sugar Maple Bush was, like a half mile back in the woods. I used to go there and come out and meet them by the road, they’d come out and have candies, you know for all the kids, sugar candy, yeah, that was pretty cool.”

By this time Johnny Boy had reached 16 years of age and went off to school.

“Then when in older years I went off to school. When I was 16, I signed up for a thing they were doing, taking one student from all the reservations, and they got to go out to Riverside California where you went to school 3 hours in the morning and then you work 3 hours at the Air Force base out there. The rest of the time was your time, and you get to study pool hall, pool games and recreation and stuff and go swimming. I went out to some schools, like I went to school for drafting for 3 semesters. I went to school in Fond Du Lac Wisconsin, down at Fox Valley Technical Institute. Then I didn’t finish that. I had one more semester but I came home and I didn’t go back. My main reason was I wanted to go learn something else too you know, and if I were to finish that semester, I wouldn’t have had any more grants to go to no other school you, so I’ve learned so much. I always said I was going to go back but never did. I went to an Auto Mechanics apprenticeship thing in Green Bay when I was younger too. I worked at Green Bay Implement, fixing farm tractors and stuff like that. It’s the same as any other engine you know. Did that for a while, then I went to Auto Body School, built me a ‘56 Chevy my year and a half I was there. Did the whole body, then I did a ‘61 Chevy body for a friend of mine. He was into Auto Mechanics, he built us each a 327, but I think my 327 was always faster, I think it was the gearing, it would top out at 110.”

Well, seemingly, no conversation about cars with Johnny Boy would be complete without mention of his pride and joy: The GTO…. Ever have it in a show?

“I almost put it in a show one time, and you know the guy made me a spot and I said, ‘No man, I’m just riding around and don’t want to be sitting around all day.’ Then he says; ‘You’ll probably win a plaque!’, and I said, ‘What do I want a plaque for?’ Yeah I pulled up to that car show off to Hayward, pulled out there, got out and started looking at cars out there, that guy looked at me when I came in and said: ‘One minute.’ he says as he’s walking around looking at the car. That guy had everybody move a whole bunch of stuff and said; ‘Put it right there!’, I said ‘what?’, he says ‘pull up your GTO right there, I want that right up front.’ So I said I’m not going to be here, I’m just cruising by and stopped to look at the cars.”

Referring to more seasonal activities, Johnny Boy said he doesn’t care too much for tip-ups, saying he’d use them, but would rather go spearing. Funny question which arose during the interview was if you were to spear a fish and it came in with a line attached, would you cut it? He laughingly replied: “Ha! Ha! Ha! Well, I suppose if one were to come in with a line that you could cut it.”

He also told us about his smelting adventures with Dale Wilson. “Me and my cousins and friends like Dale Wilson, Jim Wilson's younger brother, great big tall, 6 foot, anyway we’d go smelting, you know, we’d go up to Lake Superior And we’d come back down, we’d borrow Eddie Boy’s big cast iron kettle, we’d all clean up a bunch of smelt, and used to have a smelt fry right across from Eddie Boy’s, that’s where my Mom used to live. We did that for years, you know. Every year we’d all get together and invite whoever we wanted to come, come eat some smelt, you know, and they’d bring dishes and have a big ole get together like that. I miss that! We don’t do that no more. In July, after July we’d get a little buck, shoot a deer and wait, cut it all up and make some stuff like that, big ole kettle for the family, whoever wanted to stop.”

As we talked about smelting and hunting, the conversation evolved into a lesson about feeding your travelers at the Pow Wow, as he recalls, “You feed your travelers, you know, people that travel, come to your Pow Wow need to be fed. I never understood why people would sell deer meat to the Pow Wow Committee, and I would ask ‘ What are you doing? Selling deer meat? So, a couple of members of my family we’d go out and get a couple of deer and give it to them, (Pow Wow Committee), cause they always had at least one each a day at the Pow Wow. They’d have a good cook so everybody can eat one good meal a day.”

Johnny Boy explained it was his grandpa on his mother’s side, grandpa John, who most inspired him.

“I always wanted to do everything he did. I mean you know that Historyland out to Hayward? They built all of that, the Wigwams, everything. Tony Wise owned it what they built. When I was a little kid, I remember going out back of the old logging camp back there and I’d get to go by my grandpa, and then while he was doing stuff, I’d ask him ‘Why are you doing that? Why did you have that in the water?’ So, he would explain to me he had those cedar ribs in the water so he could tie them up like this, (Johnny Boy makes gestures with hands), then he’d take them out of the water and pound them. ‘Why are you doing that?’ Stretching the fibers he would say, get more buoyancy that way. I watched him build canoes, I always wanted to build a canoe but never did follow up on it. I could if I wanted to. I watched him build lodges. I can do that too. I’ve learned a lot of stuff from my grandfather. But then there’s my uncle on my mom’s side, Jim Barber. He was an engineer who went to Ohio. My uncle Antwon was also an engineer, they never worked in the field for what they went to school for. My uncle James, he was a stone polisher. My uncle Antwon was a Pharmaceutical Director in Minneapolis, a good job even though that wasn’t what he went to school for, but the education helped. Somewhere down the line you’re going to need an education. I didn’t like math or Science, but after talking to them, I took two or three math courses at a time. That’s gonna help you out in life.”

In talking about his now deceased wife, Connie, Johnny Boy said she was into Christianity quite a bit, so she wanted to go see Noah's Ark.

“I always wondered how someone could do that. It’s in Kentucky, it’s built to the exact dimensions given in The Bible, and I wondered how could a man build something like this in a lifetime? It's so humongous! Inside it’s got workshops, and they, (animals), all had their places too, like where the sheeps and the llamas and heavy species of animals were kept, now that was something! Now how in the world could a man do that, kinda gets you thinking, you know. Plus, in a lifetime, what they say it was built, but they said life was longer than it is nowadays.”

In what ways were you involved in the community, then or now?

“I’ve taught a lot of people how to hunt and stuff like that, a lot of young people, you know. I taught them about the woods, what I learned about it. I love it when we’re in the sugar bush and they ask us if they can bring a class out there. Wow! That’s a great honor. I’d say ‘Bring them on up!’ and tried to do stuff like have a meal for them, we’d cook meals out in our camp.”

What are some of your fondest memories of the workplace?

“I like to fix stuff, like cars, it’s a sense of accomplishment when you do something like that. You know what my fondest work memory is? If you look around the reservation, any building you look at, I had something to do with it, that’s a lot of accomplishment.”

Johnny Boy explained through the years he’s learned while living here on the Rez, everything about life and that you can’t rush to judgment. He said you have to think about things before making an irrational decision, you have to think things through, or else all you’re going to end up with is controversy.

Johnny Boy said he’d share with the younger ones of today to learn all you can in school cause sooner or later in your life you’re gonna need it.

“Something else I tell young people is to learn their culture. If you look back, the Native American people were the healthiest people in the country until they brought their diseases with them, (Europeans). You need to know about your culture, and also about the medicines. We’ve got medicines that do amazing things but it’s not commonly shared. You know. Natural medicine.”

So, there you have it folks, Johnny Boy Corbine, once a boy, very much a man, officially an elder. We remain grateful as well as honored, for and by, his interview. May his experience and wisdom convey themselves to you in the very best of ways and keep you safe.



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