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ELDER RECOGNITION: Sylvia Bracklin


LCO News: So where were you born?


Sylvia: I was born in the village of Whitefish here on the reservation upstairs in our house, my dad's house on his 80 acres of land he had in Whitefish?

LCO News: Where did your parents meet?


Sylvia: They met in Menominee, Wisconsin. My dad was attending Stout College. And my mom was a waitress at one of the restaurants close by, so he came in there to eat, and that's how they met.


LCO News: What was he studying?


Sylvia: I don't know.


LCO News: What was his career then in life?


Sylvia: Well, my mom said he was really good at math, and I don't know what his you know, I wish I'd talk to them about things like that. You don't think about it at the time. She said she married the football star of the college. So he was really good at sports. He was recruited out of college to play international football team, but she couldn't remember the name of the team. So he was the first Indian to attend college on a GI bill. He had been when he was 17 years old.


He went into World War I to fight, got his dad to let him sign up. He had graduated from high school and his dad signed him up, let him go because he had two older brothers already fighting and overseas. So he wanted to go too. So he went in and he went in World War One, he served, and when he got out, he got on the GI bill. He went to Stout college.

And then from there he was recruited out to play football. And then he was a fireman up in Superior.


And then he also was a machinist. He worked with machines and went on for a while, and then he became sick. He was starting to get sick. And he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. They sent him to the hospital in Minneapolis, the Veteran’s hospital, and he spent a week there, came home and was diagnosed with Parkinson's. So from there it was really downhill for him. There was no medication for it at that time. So he lost his ability to speak, and his hands were frozen. He couldn't feed himself or anything, were just frozen. And he lost part of his fingers in his hand. But that's my dad.


LCO News: And your mom after she married. And how many siblings do you have?


Sylvia: Well, they had eight. There was one girl below me that was still born. There were seven. They raised seven kids in Whitefish there in that house. Wow. Yeah. Four boys and three girls. It would have been four boys and four girls.


LCO News: And again, going back to your mom. I'm sure that was a full time job for her.


Sylvia: This was back in the Depression era. And she had attended a school in Menominee I forgot what they call it, was the high school. I think they taught the girls to be farm wise there. I forget what the school was called. They taught a lot of biology and how to make cottage cheese and butter and how to plant and how to take care of cows. And she had a really good background there from the school. I forgot what they call that school. She had all kinds of sewing that she did. So, yeah, she raised us, and they had this huge garden every year, and she did all summer. She picked berries and canned everything. So, yeah, she kept us alive, basically.


LCO News: She teach a lot of the traditional ways?


Sylvia: You know, she was not native. My mom was white. So she was Christian. So she raised us as Christian. My grandma was full blood Anishinabe. She lived it, but she passed away two years before I was born.


LCO News: That was your grandma on your father's side?


Sylvia: Yeah. So I didn't get to learn from her, the traditional ways. And then my dad, because he got sick so quickly, then he wasn't able to teach me either. I did have my grandpa down the road a little ways, but he did not ever seem interested in his kids. He was actually a lot busy writing letters and stuff. He did a lot of letter writing for the native people that couldn't speak English and whatnot. So he did a lot of paperwork. He was at one time he was what they called a farmer. He was a farmer at Red Cliff for a while, and then he was a county surveyor for a while. That was my grandpa, Tom Bracklin.


His mother was Ashawaya Gishi Golkweg. She was the eldest daughter of Chief Nangabi. So he was a grandson of Chief Nanghabi. I don't know if you've ever heard of him.


LCO News: I've heard the names.


Sylvia: He was the last war chief. He was our last war chief.


LCO News: So what was early school life like for you?


Sylvia: I grew up here on the reservation. I went to the Catholic school for the first couple of years, two or three years, maybe four years. And then I switched over to the Whitefish school. I don't know that's on Whitefish Lake. It was the little school. My grandfather had donated the land there for the school to be the Indian school. To be built on Whitefish Lake. And he told my parents if they ever closed the school up, the land was supposed to go back to the family. But it never did. Yeah, it closed up the year after he died. He died in 1950?


Then I went to Hayward High School. Graduated from Hayward High School and two months later I was working in the Loop in Dunn and Bradstreet. In the Loop in Chicago, three months later. So that was quite a transition.


LCO News: Would say, from a little town, Hayward.


Sylvia: Not only that, but we still didn't have, like, indoor plumbing here on the reservation, yet we didn't have a telephone.


LCO News: How did you get from here to Chicago? What was that like?


Sylvia: Well, I eloped. I was supposed to go on a relocation program with Myrna, another girl here from my class. We were to be sent out to Los Angeles, California, on a relocation program. But then at the last minute, I ended up reloading and going to Chicago. And I looked to the newspaper for jobs and saw that Dunn and Bradstreet had a job opening. So I went down to the Loop, got a job there and worked there. Yes. And it was totally awesome experience. I mean, I would look down there and look up at those tall buildings. It was so amazing. It was just a culture shock, really. A culture shock for me.


LCO News: And what did you do for Dunn and Bradstreet?


Sylvia: I started in a typing pool. There are 75 women in this huge typing room, and then right next to them was the reporters. The reporters would come in, and they'd want their stories typed up right away, so you had to be really fast and quick.


LCO News: They would just sit there next to you.


Sylvia: No, they hand it in to our supervisor, and then we get the report and have to type it up and turn it back to our supervisor. And then it would go to the reporters. Yeah. It was interesting, to say the least.


Then I went to school at night over there. At night, I went to college at Wright Junior College in Chicago.


LCO News: And you were studying the more administrative sort of thing?

Sylvia: No, I started with I took a class in sociology. Yeah. My husband at that time was taking another class there, so went together at night. Sure. Yeah.


LCO News: Good quality time together, both working so much.


Sylvia: Yeah. And then driving through all that heavy traffic.He picked me up at work, and we drive through the traffic to the school and then home at night and get home about 10:00 at night. And then get up again and leave by six in the morning. It was busy. Yeah, it was really busy time.


LCO News: What year range was that when you went to Chicago?


Sylvia: 56. I graduated in 1956.

LCO News: And how long did you live in Chicago?


Sylvia: Four or five years. Five years, maybe. Yeah. My husband was at the time I met him, he was attending Northwest University in Illinois, and then he went to the Illinois Institute of Technology.


So he started getting asthma from all the pollution in Chicago. So the doctor told me we had to get out of there. So we moved out to Kansas, Emporia, Kansas, first, and then Kansas City. And then I went to Hawaii, and I lived in Hawaii for a while and then came back and lived in Topeka.


LCO News: Have you had any children yourself?


Sylvia: Oh, yeah. My oldest one is Valerie. She passed away two years ago of pancreatic cancer. She was married to a guy from Hawaii. They had worked on a family farm. He had a family hog farm. And yeah, she did that all her married life. She became the CEO of the farm. They had, like, at one time, a couple thousand hogs and then a thousand after they had cut back. And then they had, like, goats. They have also a huge herd of goats. She's an LCO tribal member, and she was named by the state of Hawaii as Farmer of the Year. And I felt really proud about that, so I thought that was kind of unusual. And then 2019, I think it was, she brought the Food Network here to LCO. They did a show here. Gosh, I can't remember the name of that now. Chef Ed. Anyway, he does a series and they'll pick one food a person will talk about from their area, and they ask Valerie what food she remembers the most living on a reservation. And she picked wild rice. So they had to come in during the period wild rice was growing here, which is really kind of hard to schedule. So they brought their team over here and they did a whole show then. It's still showing on the Internet. You can see it yet.


They have dedicated the show to Valerie, the memory of Valerie. So, yeah, it could still be seen. I was talking to a lady from Hawaii on the phone one day, and I had never met her. She said, oh. She said, I just saw you recently. I said what? I said, how did you see me? She said, I saw you on the Alaskan Airlines. I said, I've never been on the Alaskan Airlines. Oh. She said, I saw you on the screen. She said, they're showing the series of it. Yeah, that was really interesting.


LCO News: Now, why was this daughter in Hawaii? Was she born in Hawaii?


Sylvia: No, she was born in Chicago. But her father and I were divorced, and the girls would go back and forth, but two of them, oldest and the youngest ended up getting married and staying there and raising their families there. My second daughter is Lori Taguma. And she's here with me. She's living with me now. She graduated from Berkeley College.


My youngest daughter lives in Hawaii. She and her husband used to have their own home repair business. Her name is Carol. She married a native Hawaiian. Morgan Ferguson. But we call him Pee Wee. He's over 6ft tall, but he was a twin, and his twin brother was really heavy, kind of heavy set, and he was kind of tall and lanky. So early on, he got the nickname Pee Wee. But they have a daughter named Summer. She's an attorney in Hawaii. In Oahu. She's a partner in the Wattanobi law firm in Oahu. Waikiki.


LCO News: So what do you do nowadays? What's your busy hobbies, jobs? Volunteering?

Sylvia: Yeah, I'm working at the Kinnamon Museum part time, just a few hours a week. I'm documenting and putting into a table of contents all of that. Like right now I'm working on the history of the flowage from the beginning of well, it goes back to the treaties. The treaties and how they separated the Lands into the different tribes and made the treaties and how they broke them, how they lost the land and then how the power company came in and took land and yeah, it was really terrible how they did that. They threatened the Indians if they didn't sign their land over to them, they would have the land condemned and they wouldn't get anything. It's just really terrible. Anyway, that's what I'm doing. I'm documenting and making a table of contents for that information. Right now I've got the papers of Ward Winton.


Ward Winton was the attorney that worked on the case back in the 20’s. So his father or his son had all of his papers, so he's turned them over to Rick St. Germaine and then Rick has brought some of it here and were working on that now.


LCO News: What else do you do for fun?


Sylvia: I dabble in paint. And then in history, I've been looking at family genealogy and stuff like that after I retired from the college in 2009 when I was 70 years old.


LCO News: What did you do at the college?


Sylvia: I started at the college when John Anderson got it started. I was working for On Dai ing at the time, and he called me up and he said, I have a part time job. I want you to come and work for me. And I said, well, I said, I'm the only one working in the family right now. I really need a full time job. He said, okay, I'll call you back as soon as I can offer you a full time job. So he called me back in 1984, two years later, and I had just had an experience driving to Spooner and my car started shimmying and shaking and I didn't know what but I kept going and kept going. And I got to the 53 turned off to Earl or Trego, and there was a garage there at the time. And I pulled over and my back wheels, I just got off from the main highway and the car dropped. It fell.


The man, the garage owner, came out. He took me to work in a car, and after a while he called me. He said, you know, lady, there was someone riding with you in that car, otherwise you wouldn't be here right now. So John Anderson called me right after that and he said, I have a full time job for you now. So I kind of took that as maybe that was a message, maybe that I should take that job. So I started then with the college. I quit Ain Dai ing I went to the college and started working there. We were still in the tribal office building. We were in the auditorium. We had a small section in the auditorium about from here to there. Three of us were fit in there. And that was the college? That was it, the college.


In those days, we had classes all over the place. There was an upstairs loft. They had wherever they could find their room empty. That's where classes were held, the school empty rooms down in the old Reserve Community Center?


LCO News: What were the classes back then with that? Fewer classrooms?


Sylvia: There were culture classes, ethnobotany classes. I think there were some accounting classes. Basic general classes.


LCO News: And what was your position?


Sylvia: I was the executive secretary. Well, they called me in right at that time. He was anxious for me to get in there. They were expecting their first visit from the accrediting agency North Central. So he wanted me to get all the files straightened out, all of the faculty files and their student records and everything had to be put into order so that they could pass the inspection from the accreditation. So that was what I had to do first, get everything in order. And they did pass.


I did whatever they threw at me because there wasn't any money to hire the people. We didn't have money. So first I was executive secretary, and then I was the office manager, and I was purchasing supplies and all of that. Then we bought the building from Paul Demain. We bought his printing building. He had that pole building there, and so we bought that. That was our first college building that we owned. We all moved over there.


I was doing payroll, campus manager, public relations.


LCO News: What didn't you do?


Sylvia: Well, Anne Marie (Penzkover) came in and then she started taking over the student services department after that. What didn't I do? I didn't teach. I refused to teach. They wanted me to teach a typing class, but I told them, no, I will not teach.


LCO News: What would you say to your 7th generation children here today?


Sylvia: Well, take care of the environment wherever you live, take care of the environment. Keep the water clean. Don't abuse anything. Always do things in moderation. Take things in moderation. Never destroy, never pollute, and don't overdo anything. Limit yourself. If you don't take care of the planet and the water and the animals and plants, you won't have them.

I'd also like to mention that my second husband was Rick Baker. He was a tribal chairman here in 1971. He was elected here. And before he was elected there was the tribe's economy. Their total budget was twelve hundred dollars a year before he was elected. And after he got elected, he set out to change, make changes. He traveled all over the country, Washington and whatnot in his little pickup truck. He set out to get money, to get funds and to change things. And he made payroll for his council so that they would be fulltime workers, which had never happened before, that they were just paid to go to a meeting, I think once a month or something. And within a few years, the Tribe’s budget was several million dollars.

He would check in who's got money and wherever he went, he'd find out where money was and what Congress and whatnot funding. He'd go after it. He would go after it. He'd go after the people that were running the programs and meet with them. He'd send letters to them, a petition, and he was treasurer of the National Tribal Chairman's Association, which he started to organize it. And then through all of the different contacts of all of the chairmen of the tribes, he had contacts there. So he found out what they were doing and where they were getting their money and all of this and that. And then he would have me come in and dictate proposals and grants and stuff, and I would write the grants up for him. He would send them off.


LCO News: So with that funding, what new things did he bring to the tribe?


Sylvia: Everything? They had nothing. Yeah, they had nothing. They had a few HUD homes when Norman. Guibord, in his last session where he was chairman, just before Rick was elected, they had started HUD homes and there were a few HUD homes in reserve and that was it. Everything else, there was Head Start in reserve, but that was funded through the Great Lakes Inter Tribal Council. He and his council brought in everything.


The Tribal Council decided to close off the reservation to hunt. Non-Indians could no longer come on the reservation and hunt. And then he got to close off the waters within the reservation for fishing. They started charging non-Indians that came on the reservation to fish. They started giving them citations, and they would have to pay the tribe for fishing. Well, they took that to court, and that was the Wisconsin Baker court case. He lost that part of that. They had to return the money for the fishing to non-Indian people. But people were getting really angry outside of the reservation because the things that were happening within the reservation, they were starting to progress off, starting to progress here. People outside around the reservation started to get really angry at the Indians, and the kids in the schools started to suffer from it. They were being harassed then.


So the kids are calling Rick and telling him that, we are being discriminated against, we're being bullied, we're being tormented. Can you do something about it? So he went out to the Hayward School and he tried to meet with the principal. Well, he talked to the principal, said he wanted to set up a meeting with the teachers and whatnot, and they wouldn't do it. They wouldn't set up a meeting for him. He said, Well, I'm going to take the kids and I'm going to walk them out. We're going to do our own school. So that's what he did. He walked the kids out, brought them home. Now we have our own school system.

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1 Comment


Jean Craig
Jean Craig
Feb 02, 2023

That was a really nice story and intereview with Elder, Sylvia Bracklin


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