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ELDER RECOGNITION: Marie Kuykendall

LCO News: Tell us a bit about yourself.

 

Marie: I’m Marie Baker Kuykendall, born in December 1942 in Chief Lake, Wisconsin to Lois O’ Shogay Baker and Deneshi Baker Sr. I have an older brother, William Jr. and a younger sister, they’ve both passed on. I lived there in Chief Lake for maybe 3 or 4 years, then moved to New Post and that’s where I grew up. We lived with my grandmother. She had a nice log cabin there. And my mother left the rez to go to work to provide for us. So, I lived with my grandmother and we took care of the younger kids, the boys, Joseph and Ramon. Ramon is the brother and Joseph was a cousin but since we were all raised together, we were just brother and sister, no distinction there.

My grandmother was a big part of the community. She had a big garden. We worked there, she went to church and we cleaned that. When the holidays came and went, she always provided a big meal for the older unattached members of the community and I remember they all came to our house to eat. We lived right when you went into New Post, right by the cemetery there. Our neighbor was Mike Negano, I remember him, an older man. He would talk with us and tell us stories, sometimes he’d take us fishing which we did like to go and like to do. The day of catch, he would help us clean it and we would cook, and that would be our supper. My grandmother cooked the bread and took care of the other essentials that we ate.

Once I started school my mother returned and took over our care then. When we started school, I went to the big stone building in New Post. That’s where we went to school. Right now, they’re thinking of making it a visitor/tourist center. Sarah Balbin is going to put her sculpture there regarding the removal of the Post people. Then Hayward Community Schools built a school there, right across from the church and that’s where we went once they closed the community school. Went to the 8th grade there. And then we were transferred to Hayward cause it was a terrible, hour long ride. Yeah, my brother and I went there, and then I actually didn’t graduate from there.

I met my husband when I was 17 and we got married. Then I moved to Blueberry. We settled into having a family, and he was working and we had 7 girls and 2 boys. That’s quite a large family. When they were young I put them in a Catholic School in Reserve which they enjoyed. Then when they were high school age, some went to high school in Hayward, and graduated from there and others wanted to learn how to do stuff, go to job corps and stuff like that. They went off to Flandreau Boarding School. My oldest boy graduated from there, and 2 or 3 of the younger ones attended there but then they wanted to come home and graduate. My oldest is a girl, a daughter. She went to school in Minnesota to become a Montessori Teacher which she still does; she works at Head Start now. My son went to Illinois to graduate from school down there; electronics. He is employed. And the others…..hmmm! Let’s see, one rode to Milwaukee, married there, one lived in Minnesota, and the rest live around here. Which is good, I like having them close. One loves to take care of dogs, all her pets. She has a daughter who’s in college, and I think she wants to be some sort of an animal biologist, take care of animals, things like that. One of my grandsons went to LaCross to graduate from there, and two of them worked at the Boys and Girls Club. They really enjoyed working with the youth.

My husband died, we were married almost 12 years. He got a really bad case of pneumonia and he didn’t survive that. How was I going to survive? Because I didn’t graduate from High School. So I had to try to get an education, get my high school diploma so I could go to college. I knew I wouldn't be able to take care of them with the economy at the time. So I was contacted by the education department here and said that Judge Barber, Ed Barber was helping people get their High School diploma. He worked with me for a year studying different subjects so I could take my tests, and I passed. I excelled in Math and English. So I applied for College and was accepted at UW Madison.

I wanted to be a Nurse/Practitioner, so gathered up the kids and away we moved to Madison. I was there for two years, studying the background to be a Nurse/Practitioner but they just had so many people in the program that I was the number one alternative to go into that then. Not one declined so I was just kind of wasting my time there, and the kids wanted to come home, so we did. We came home and I applied at Mount Senario College, which is no longer. When I graduated there, I had a degree in Finance and Economics. Then I got a job with the Tribe working with the women. That was always my concern. They needed to be educated so they could support their families. My Grandmother always told me that you have to get educated so you can work and become something. We got all the widows and single women that wanted to pursue an education and we learned a lot of different things; how to apply for a job, how to do a resume, how to dress, how to meet people. We went to meet with the neighboring Tribal Councils, talking with them and seeing how they were doing with the members of their community, how things were going and their economy. Then we learned how to get a Drivers License, just basic things like a bank account. Some members needed hearing aids, glasses and we did that. Once that class was over, I was hired by a program called Relief For Needy Indian Persons. Kind of like General Assistance but geared more towards single people getting them prepared for life. I did that right after I graduated in ‘81 and ‘85.

My mother and father in law had moved to Green Bay and my father in law was working there as a security guard for a company. We would go down there and visit, and he would say, ‘We’re too lonely down here, when you guys go home we have nothing to do. You move down here, get a job down here and bring the kids down and we can do things together again.’ So I did. I went down there, got a job with a public service down there doing utility bills for water, gas, and electric. That’s how I got in contact with computers. I worked there for I think three years then I get a call one day from the Department of Labor saying they’d like to help people with furthering their education. If they paid for my tuition, bought books, and were given a stipend, would I attend. So I told them “Sure!” It would be working in Natural Resources, that’s my background. I hunt and fish and all that kind of stuff.”

So that was it, gathered up the kids again and moved to Madison. We lived in student housing down there. I worked with The Department of Preventive Medicine, they wanted to do a graph on how the contaminants in the fish and water affected Natives. They offered me to be the top person to go out and talk to the tribes. They wanted to do a really in-depth survey of them, about their diet, when they hunt and fished. Actually, we would need to take blood samples and hair strands to see if the contaminants were there and if so, how long? We did L.C.O., Red Cliff, Ashland, we did one in Michigan and another in Minnesota. At Grand Traverse, we did that one too. It took us quite a while to do that because we were working with the Surgeon General of the State, Dr. Henry Anderson. There were two nurses in grad school that helped me with that. Once that study was done, it was published and then I got a call from the college in Superior. He wanted me to go work with them on a similar project with fish in Lake Superior.

 So, gathered up the kids again and moved to Superior. I worked at the university there as a research assistant and comanager of the Superior Research Institute. We did more of the same stuff like working with the Tribes that had the higher concentrations of contaminants, one was in Minnesota I think we had people in Red Cliff too, and Bad River because they live right on the lake there too, and they consume a lot more. That was written up and published too. The thing about that was the fact that the people knew there were contaminants in their diet but they can’t stop eating it. We published the information and other organizations made suggestions such as eating the smaller fish and eating less fish. During that time I got a call from the National Forum which is a collaboration between Canada and the United States to protect the Great Lakes. I asked Dr. Dillinger, who was the head of my department, if it was ok if I became part of that commission, and he said ‘sure, it’ll be all the more helpful to us because as a research group, we went and made a lot of different presentations to a lot of different areas talking about our projects and their outcomes.

So I was part of that until 1993, then I got a call from the Tribal Chairman at the time, he said, ‘Marie, it’s time to come home, we need you here at home. I want you to put together a Planning Department, so that’s what I did. I moved the kids, but by then there were only two at home. So, we moved home and lived at my dad’s house. Then went to work and put together the department and got a group together. During that time too, we were concerned about the Tribal Governing Board and new people who wanted to run and how to do it. My cousin from Milwaukee wanted to run, so we helped him. My other cousin and I were introducing him to the community because he just moved here, and we helped him. He became a lawyer, Jim Schlender Sr. my cousin. Things went along till in ‘96 Russel Barber asked me to help out with the Transportation Department. I was involved with anything having to do with traffic. From then on, that’s all I did until I retired in ‘21.

 

LCO News: How do you like retirement?

 

Marie: I love it! Ha! Ha! Ha! During all the years I worked, I traveled all over. I think I’ve been in every casino in the United States. When they had meetings and conferences, that’s where they’d hold them. And I’ve been all over Canada. People there were concerned about their wildlife, their ducks, right across the river from Detroit there. I met with them and brought back some information for our research group so we helped them with that. Turns out the lead shot was getting out into the water. When we tested them, (the ducks), we found out they weren't reproducing. I’ve had a very good life.

 

LCO News: What were some fond memories of growing up on the reservation?

 

Marie: In my childhood in New Post, it was a good community, there was no segregation of age groups, we played and worked together. There was no place we couldn’t go. There were no trespassing signs anywhere at all in the early 50’s. We could go skating during winter time on the Flowage, pushing the younger ones on the sled, and sliding down the hills. The church was never locked. We could go sit in the church and just talk and tease one another.

 

LCO News: Who were your friends back in the day?

 

Marie: Oh, he he he! Lots of friends. Because we were such a close community there, we were off by ourselves. Let me see, my girlfriends were my age, Connie Clause Corbine, her sisters, Marylyn, Marylee, my next door neighbor Mary Jane Thayer, younger girls were Audrey Potack, she’s still around. The guys were Louis Barber Jr., Donny Smith, John Fleming, and the Demarrs, Teddy and Alex. When we were older, in our teens, our older cousins would sneak us off the rez and take us hunting, they would ask the younger girls along. The boys our age wouldn’t take us along because they said us girls would just be giggling. Our older cousins would take us along and if they shot something, we had to get out and push the deer in. They, (older cousins), would take off and make sure there weren't any wardens around or stuff like that, then come back and pick us up, we were just kind of look outs. I didn’t like being out in the Flowage, it’s scary.”

 

LCO News: What did you love most about growing up on the rez?

 

Marie: I guess it was the freedom of it all. Our parents had to work and they were gone most of the day doing stuff, and the kids were on their own all day long, so if we wanted to go swimming, we’d go swimming, if we wanted to monkey around in the woods, we’d do that too. Being able to go where we wanted to go, the only time we really had to be home was after dark. Before we left in the morning we had to do our chores, bring the wood in, get some water and make sure dogs were fed and everything was alright, once we did that we were done for the day.

 

LCO News: Who inspired you the most throughout your life?

Marie: My Grandmother was the one who always said I should go to school to become somebody. I don’t know, I guess I just have a good memory, even in grade school the kids would ask if my work was done prior to asking if they could look at it. Ha ha ha. I wouldn't let them see it but offered to help them with theirs. What really helped me through college and grad school was I just had to read something once and I just had to think about it. I really didn’t have to study.

 

LCO News: In what ways were you involved with the community then or now?

 

Marie: Not much within the community then because I was busy raising my kids, but now since coming back to work for the Tribe I’ve been on a lot of committees concerning child support because all the men here were always getting picked up for non-support and there was no way they could fight that until we got our own program here. So, I worked with them from day one. I’m still on the committee for that. Being connected to the college there was the first financial officer for the college when we got going, we worked as a group to get that going, that was in ‘82. I still work with the college and am chair of the Library Board. I'm also concerned about books, I have almost 2,000 books in my bedroom. The kids, there was nothing for them to do around here, so I worked with Jodi Morrow. Her and I got the Boys and Girls Club going. All my Grandchildren love to work there. I was on the Housing Committee there for a while because people live in a HUD house. It just doesn’t help you. You can’t grow for yourself, because it takes so much for your rent if you get a job. So I worked on that to become the Committee for Home Owners.

When the Elders Association started up in 2000, I became part of that going to the meetings and meeting other Elders because while I was working, I didn’t have much time for working with the people of the community. I really enjoyed that too, I’m still part of that Association today. I think it was Rusty that said the Elders should be recognized for their work within the community. So, we put together the Elders Council. The Elders in the community that wanted to run for that had to be elected, and I think we elected Darryl Coon Sr. to do that for a long time until he passed. It used to be the Advisory Council for the Governing Board, they’ve kind of dropped the Advisory Council now and just become the Elder Council and we work with the Elder Center. I enjoy the work I do here, I have very good people that do a very good job. All the ladies on the Elder Council are very helpful and supportive. They do a good job. Within that group, we decided The Constitution of The Tribal Governing Board needs to be revised and that’s what we’re working on now. Part of our group became the Constitution Revision Group and that’s what we’re doing now. Learning to have the applicants get their information together and get it out to the public, we would put that out there for them. Now we’re really interested in doing live streaming for all our work. Trying to get into technology.

 

LCO News: What are some of your hobbies?

 

Marie: I’ve had dogs all my life, except when I lived in the cities. I have two dogs, but they’re always out in the yard cause I’m allergic to them. It Kind of regulates my life. I have to get up and feed them, feed them before they go to bed at night, make sure they have a good place to live, and make sure they have their shots and everything. I also do a lot of knitting, for years I’ve made hats and scarves and gloves and mitts for the school. Then I watch TV as I knit. In my spare time I do jigsaw puzzles, no less than a thousand pieces. If you get tired of doing something, you look around and find a piece. You don’t have to do it all the time. I always have my table set up with a puzzle. Then I have to take my Grandson to work and pick him up. I always have crossword books in the car, something to keep my mind busy all the time, and I love to gamble. Several people call me ‘Lucky.’

I think I’ve been to all the casinos in the United States. We went to Joliet, Illinois and they had one on the river. We went to Iowa. I went to that one too. We also went to the Seminoles in Florida.

 

LCO News: What is one thing that you’ve learned at L.C.O. over the years?

 

Marie: I don’t know, I think my kids could say it better. You have to have confidence in yourself, know your limits, what you can and cannot do. I'm very fortunate to have a well-known dad, hard-working grandmother who raised me, and my mom was there but she was always out working. We weren't deprived of anything, we didn’t have money, but we had everything else.

 

LCO News: What advice would you share with the young ones of today?

 

Marie: I tell my Grandson, there’s a big world out there, and before you become part of it, you have to realize who you are first and be able to know that things are not always what they seem. Get to know things first, don't be jumping into anything. Look and listen.

So there you have it, Marie Baker Kuykendall. Vintage 1942, of the Chief Lake variety, having shared her life times and accomplishments with us in order to convey her wisdom and experiences. May the events in her life inspire you to pursue your own dreams and accomplishments. We remain ever so grateful for her interview which has been an interesting and educational one to say the least.

 

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