ELDER RECOGNITION: Rosalie Gokee
Rose: My English name is Rosalie Gokee. My mother is from Queuing and my father was from Red Cliff. I am 63 years old. I grew up in New Post, Wisconsin, part of my life, and I was fortunate enough to have lived through a time or experienced a time when we did not have electricity, we did not have running water. And I am grateful for that because I appreciate so much more in life now. We could haul water from the lake because the water was good back then, and we could drink the water. Otherwise, we had a pump. We had a pump to use, and we ate a lot of wild game berries. We did not have a lot of candy all the time, accessible sweets, that type of thing.
So, what we did is we went and picked apples, berries, nuts, hazelnuts. Hazelnuts were my favorite when they came into season. I also remember going out and picking berries. I lived with my great aunt and uncle Annie and Connie Tainter for a period of time. And went out and they harvested. So as a young girl, I helped harvest. But we also had to help haul wood, feed the chickens, whatever needed to be done. I actually grew up in foster care or family care. I was with my parents off and on up until I was around five years old, I'm guessing five years old.
LCO News: When did you enter foster care? At what age?
Rose: I entered foster care probably around six, somewhere around that age.
LCO News: I'm sorry, you were saying your dad was in your life?
Rose: Yeah, my dad was. So logging was what was happening back then. So my dad did logging because there was a lot of land that was sold. People were hungry, they needed a way to live. They sold their land to feed their family. Because of assimilation, people didn't have a lot of skills in the modern world. There were a lot of jobs around here, so people did what they needed to survive. And there weren't a lot of social service programs back then to help families like there are now. Anyway, alcoholism was big. Unfortunately, my family was impacted, which resulted in me going into foster care or family care. Sad situation for a lot of young people. Being removed from the home, put in other placements was tough. It was really tough.
But I did have family relatives that took us children in, there were seven of us. Not all of us stayed with the same family, right? So eventually what happened is I was ten years old when I was sent to live with distant relatives in Minneapolis. I was the last one left of the siblings to be chosen for a different placement, and I was separated from my sister. We were really close. It was really hard to leave the reservation. What I was familiar with back then, all I knew is there were white people and there were Indian people. Back then, you didn't have this feeling of amongst our own people, lateral violence. You're not dark enough, you're not this or whatever, didn't have that.
The community that I lived in back then in New Post, you could just go visit around people, left their doors open. We could just run around and have fun. As kids, we didn't have so much worry as there is now with all these different drugs. Like I said, it's predominantly alcoholism. I do remember going at times to a bar and we could play outside, or maybe we'd get a bag of chips if we were fortunate enough. But I remember that part of my life, growing up, experiencing that once in a while, people getting into an argument or fighting, that was scary. So, ten years old, I went to live in the cities, and all of a sudden, there were all these different people that I never even knew, all these different ethnic backgrounds. I was just, like, amazed.
And even different tribes that I never even heard of, never heard of in my life. And it was really an awesome experience for me. When I moved to the cities, it also opened me up to more playing an instrument, being involved in different activities. I was in Girl Scouts. I belong to, like, a little Bible study group. And my friend from Red Lake, her and I, we would go downtown Minneapolis and we'd watch Waahoo McDaniel. It was huge back then. I was in 7th grade when I met my best friend Linda, and her and I would go watch wrestling matches. So that was my time there. I was baptized Catholic because Catholicism was huge here. We had St Ignatius. And we had St. Francis.
Okay, so a lot of Native people became Catholic and when I went to the cities, then my foster family there made sure that we went to church. And I was confirmed. And I thought it was hard for me to accept it because it would stand up, sit down, say this back to a language that I didn't even understand. Someone speaking a different language to me. I don't even know what he's saying. And it wasn't enough fulfillment for me. And then we moved out of the cities to a suburb and then back to where its predominantly white people, a little bit upper class people and not too many other ethnics. So were kind of like felt like we were on an island.
When I ended up graduating, I did receive a scholarship. I was going to college at that time and I didn't know it was my time to leave the foster home. I just thought, this is my family now, this is my family. My foster mother ended up getting sick, she ended up getting cancer. And something happened where I wasn't able to stay there anymore. So I had a quick college, broke my heart. So I remember being back by my sister. But before I left, I wanted to know why no one ever checked on me in the foster home placement. So I called the county that I lived in and I said, I want to talk to my worker who's assigned to my case. We don't know who your worker is. We don't know who your worker is.
I said, I want to know why no one ever checked on me to see if I was okay. Well, they couldn't. But what I found out later is there's something called the interstate compact so if you come from another state and you go into another state and to care actually, the state of Wisconsin had jurisdiction and I didn't know that at the time, but I do know that now. But I was angry as I was upset. So now, for part of my life, I did advocate for people, for youth that were an audible placement that when they speak, someone needs to listen because they may have a story to tell and it may be important. And the importance of independent living skills as well, getting them ready for the outside placement so they have those skills that they need.
So, then eventually what happened is I moved back to Eau Claire and I need to support myself. So, I got a job.
LCO News: That's where your sister was living?
Rose: My sister, yeah. So I got a cash job and I was a cocktail waitress for cash. Never done that in my life, but there I was. And then during that time period, I went to job service. Vernon Martin was working at job service, and I already knew Vern, so he helped me get registered and I got some applications in and I work for this little company, the American Company, and I ended up meeting my former husband there and we started our family. We had four beautiful children. And anyway, eventually our marriage ended again because of, I want to say, boarding school. My ex-husband's parents were both in boarding school and they did not really have the skills to provide the needed love and affection that a child needs.
It was more discipline, rearing, and he had some trauma and as a result, it impacted my children, it impacted me and it got to be unhealthy and AODA issues and then I need to go. So I did. That was the hardest thing because growing up in foster care, that family unit was so important to me. I did whatever I could to keep that family in it together until I couldn't anymore. And then a few years ago when the boarding school was really talked about, my daughter and I had a very good conversation about it and things came out that a child shouldn't have to go through. And I can't go and change now that now here I am. I have served. I had the honor and the privilege to serve on the governing board when I actually moved back home. Right.
I moved back home in 2006 and I served on the governing board from 2015 to 2019. Prior to that, I worked in the legal department as a legal support specialist. I started out as a legal secretary paralegal legal support specialist.
LCO News: Did you go back and get a degree for this or was it after.
Rose: I received my paralegal while I worked in the legal department, so they actually paid for me. That sense of accomplishment was huge for me. Huge. It meant a lot to me. And during that time, I also organized this big golf tournament for the tribe, the LCO Youth and Education Golf Classic that's funded several scholarships for tribal members throughout the years. I'm no longer a part of that once I left employment, served on the Tribal governing board. But during my tenure on the governing board, I always wanted to advocate for people, those people in need, those people that have mental health issues, AODA issues, all of those important things, the elderly, any of those people that have needs.
I loved that opportunity. It was great. And currently I'm serving as the director of the Aging and Disability Services. So, I can actually advocate for people in that role. And I enjoy it. I really do enjoy it a lot. I also take some time and I go into the schools and I speak about my youth, the things that happened to me, which I haven't talked about everything here during this interview, but I talked to the youth because I want to let them know that there is a choice. You have a choice in your life. I lost a son in 2019 to drug overdose.
So I also talk about that and that they are actually in that driver's seat when it comes to decisions, making good decisions for themselves. And irregardless if their parents, like my parents, had AODA issues that you do not have to follow in those same footsteps. You have a chance to make a difference, to change that, to break that cycle. I also talk about something else that I did not really realize that I was abiding by and that's the Seven Grandfather teachings. Love, respect, bravery, truth, honesty, humility and wisdom. So I speak about that to the youth in schools. I did not know at a young age that somehow this was already instilled in me. And I had not heard about Seven Grandfather teachings until later in life. And I was like, I'm already living by these, doing my best to live by these.
LCO News: Can you talk about your own elementary days of school.
Rose: Okay. When I lived on the reservation here, because I had to live with different family, I attended different schools. Lake School, its closed now, but I did have the opportunity to attend Lake School. It was a small school. I was kind of a quiet girl, more reserved. I was fast. I was real skinny back then. And we used to play dodgeball and you had to be fast. And I usually made it was one of the last ones, so my phy-ed treacher, Mr. Rod Lundberg, a wonderful man, said to me, Rosalie, I want you to do the 50 yard dash, 100 yard dash, hop, skipping, jump. I'm like what? Me. Because I did not have a lot of confidence in myself because where I grew up. So he said, no, I want you to do it. I think you can do it. And I was so scared, and I said, I can't really jump. And I wasn't good at that. He said, I still want you to do it. Well, we had Field Day back then. And guess what? I got a blue ribbon. And I was so proud of myself. I'm like, I remember getting on the school bus, and some of the other boys on the bus, they were, like, kind of teasing me. But I was still like, I had my blue ribbon.
LCO News: So that was your younger elementary age years. How were your teenage years?
Rose: I lived in Minneapolis on Franklin Avenue near Little Earth. I was just in Minneapolis recently and revisited the area that I grew up in. I got to play basketball, softball. I was really a runner back then. I used to love to run. And then we moved out to the suburb. We were out in a rural area, and I couldn't participate in sports anymore. So, what I did then is I did office aid, teacher aid, yearbook, AFS, FFA. I did all kinds of things like that.
LCO News: What hobbies did you have back then that you may still do now?
Rose: Back then I did a lot of reading. I loved to play badminton and softball. When we could play, we lived where there was a pool, so I would go swimming. I was a little afraid of water when I lived in New Post. Father Morris was there serving as a priest at that time. And in New Post back then, the beach there was a really nice beach. It was so sandy. A lot of people would use that area. A lot of kids, a lot of family would go there swimming. And it was just a fun family time. And I was out swimming, trying to do whatever, my friend Margie and there was a drop off and I didn't know it, and I hit the drop off. I hit the drop off and I was struggling and I started to see stars and I could see my aunt and my uncle because I was living with my aunt and uncle at that time. I could see them looking. And there was my sister, Mary Jo or Marilyn, and she saw me and I was going up and down and she came running out there and she saved my life. I had nightmares. But the very next day went back to the lake there at the beach and Father Lawrence was there and he said, I'm going to teach you how to swim. So, he really did teach me how to dog paddle, how to fold on my back.
There was a little New Post community center, and we weree able to go there and do little activities. We sold little handkerchief type things to wear in our hair. They taught us how to set the table. We used to play cribbage there. We had cribbage tournaments. Laramie Jockey was my partner, and they used to pay for the first place and a consolation for the last place. So when we knew weren't winning the first place, we intentionally lost. I was pretty young back then. We used to have little dances and I like to dance, and they used to do the limbo. And I remember being able to go there. I was old enough.
LCO News: What are your hobbies today?
Rose: I read when I can, but when I'm in the mood, I will sew. So I started sewing ribbon skirts after my son passed as a way to help me get through some of that grieving. I started sewing ribbon skirts prior to that. My daughter wanted to dance. My youngest daughter wanted to dance, so that meant she had a regalia, someone gave her some regalia fancy dance. And I looked at it and I thought, I'm going to make that. I didn't have anybody to show me, but I had home ec back in high school. So I did know I did have some sewing skills, so I put those to use and I just thought, well, if I do this, maybe I'll do this.
So I stayed up all night long putting together a shawl or whatever she needed, because I knew that was important to her and I knew it was important to her identity and wanting to belong. I saw her doing that and it helped me because that's something that I wanted for myself as well. So I do what I can for the community. Somebody wants fry bread or something like that made I try to help go to big drum when I can. Not as often as I should, but when I can. So when I first learned how to make moccasins, my friend Ryan and I, we both wanted to make moccasins. Let's learn how to make moccasins. So we saw a pattern and we used denim and I kept dreaming how does this go together? And so we have the leather, and I started working on it. I couldn't wait for the time for us to meet again, so I just started doing it. And then I really started on a roll with making the mock, since for a while, I was like, I'm going to do this. And because it was so healing for me and it was a part of my connecting with my identity and culture, I felt fulfillment and I wanted to share and I wanted to teach other youth. So what I did is I work with Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. I told them what I wanted to do and we kind of partnered.
They got the leather and the supplies needed because I wanted to teach at risk youth, those children that were in care at home placement, because I knew that they needed that for their identity. So I had a class, and in fact, I have some pictures that I found from that class and individuals that actually completed. And I see some of them in the community today that are now young adults, and I feel a sense of fulfillment. And when I see other young people that are wearing the moccasins I made or even some of the regalia I made, it makes me feel good because I've given back. So any young people or any other adults that I can help because of what I've gone through or what I've experienced in life, if I can help them, I will.
By sharing my story of resiliency my story of overcoming the challenges in my life and being thankful for every day that is given to me, that is a blessing. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
LCO News: You said you had seven siblings, or seven including you.
Rose: I'm the third to the oldest. There are four of us that have the same mother and father, and then there are two sisters that have a different father. And then I have my younger brother who has a different father than I do. I really do believe that I become more of the matriarch role in my family. My mother has one sibling that's still alive. That's Marilyn Marlene. Yeah. Great sense of humor. Tells it like it is. You never know what she's going to say, and I admire her for that.
I lived in the cities on my own, and it was really hard for me, I have to tell you. Being separated from my siblings and my father, I did not reconnect with my father until I graduated from high school. He was on the run, and he was a bodyguard, he was a wrestler. Prior to him being on the run, he was a logger, he was a guide, and he got into an accident, and another friend had been drinking, and I believe they were out in Oregon and they got hit by a train. And his friend unfortunately, died. My father, for some reason, survived. He was drugged for quite a while, and he lost his memory.
When he regained somewhat of his memory, the only thing to remember is my mother, and that he had four children, and so they got him back to Wisconsin. But after that accident, he no longer wanted to drink. I was 18, graduated high school. He made it somehow to my sisters, connected with my older sister. And she called me, and she said, you will never know who is here. And I said, who? She said, dad. I'm like, dad. I was a baby when my dad left. I said, dad? And she said, yeah, you want to talk to him? I'm like, okay. And he said, Hi, this is your dear old dad. And I said, Hi, dad. And I was just like, where were you? But I didn't say that. I used to think that my dad would actually come and save me, come riding on this white horse and save me. Of course, it didn't happen, but I did reestablish my relationship with my father. And if we had a good relationship, he suffered from short term memory loss as a result of his accident. He was lucky to be alive. They called him the Gentle Giant. He was a huge man, over 6ft tall. When he broke his back, he lost some of that. But my son is six foot and my other son, he was six four. My daughter, I believe she's like 5’10. And then my other one, she's the runt. She calls herself the runt. I think she's like 5’8.
But yeah, those are my siblings. My sister that lives in Montana, she had gone to Montana. She retired from the US. Forest Service. Even though she had things that happened to her that were not good, unspeakable things that she overcame, that she is also resilient. So, she's the other responsible one, because I'm here. I'm closer to the rest. And my brother Larry also served on council. Yeah, I forgot about that. He would never forgive me if I didn't mention that.
But yeah, I'll share another story with you, because this is something else that was hard for me. We were living in town. I was with my mom then for a short period of time. And a couple of us kids, we lived in a place called Dog Town. We had a house. My mom was drinking at that time. My dad was not in the picture, right? And she had us and her boyfriend at that time, him and a friend went and robbed a tavern downtown. And he came back and told my mom to get ready to go. And she said, well, I have to get my kids ready. He said no. And we had this kitchen area. And she said, no, I'm getting my kids ready. And he threw my mom up against the wall and in front of me. I was the only one in that room, I saw him do that. I was nine years old, I grabbed a knife and I said, Let my mother go. And we had a stare down, I was nine years old, but I was going to do some damage. And we just had a stare down. He had my mom, and so he said, get them ready. Then he said it to me, he didn't say it to my mother, he looked right at me, get them ready then. So, we got ready to go and were on the run, he passed out and my mom telling his friend, go this way. And he comes to me, what are you doing? We're not going there, we're going to go here. So we ended up in a city and were in a nice beautiful hotel, something I'd never seen before. It was like this big stairway up, big kitty on the bed, and then we the next morning went to the restaurant, and that's the first time I had I think it might have been Raisin Bran or Wheaties in a box. We put the milk in and eat it on the box. And then we went back to the hotel and the cops were already there and they were astounded we managed to get back home, but shortly after that, my mom must have went out on a binge and left us kids. I was able to just one there, nine years old, and I was ironing clothes, I was making peanut butter sandwiches for my siblings. And then comes my aunt, and she said, Where's your mom? And I looked I'm like, oh. And I said she'll be back. And she said, Get your things. I'm like, oh, no, here we go.
We packed up our clothes as best we could, and everywhere we would go, back to New Post with my aunt. Back then, it was a big white house and so we stayed in that home, and I remember that home, it was so cold, we slept upstairs and you could see her breath, it was freezing cold.
My grandmother lived across in a little one room tar paper shack. She had a wood stove. She had two beds, shared a little table, a couple of little freestanding cupboards, and when we would go stay at my grandmas, we'd have to sleep sideways on the back, that's it. But that was okay, we didn't think anything different, that was just the normal thing.