– Bill Drew is a friend, long-time radical and activist. Responding to my post on Wounded Knee, he sends along a chapter from his memoir, Fortunate Son.
When a group of young Menominee Indians occupied the Alexian Brothers Monastery on land adjacent to their reservation, we traveled up there to give publicity and support. Theirs was an action modeled on the occupation of Wounded Knee by the Sioux in South Dakota. The National Guard had set up a perimeter around the abbey. Locals from Shawano – some of them calling themselves Posse Comitatus –made a sport of racing in on snowmobiles to shoot at the occupiers. One young brave and a 73 year-old snowmobiler were wounded.
At rallies, powwows, bars and in people’s homes, we got familiar with the ways of the reservation and the feelings of resentment. Ultimately several members of the Menominee Warrior Society were convicted on charges of armed burglary. One of the indicted warriors jumped bail and was living deep in the remote areas of the reservation. His name was Quill Chevalier. His brother, Buddy, was one of the Warrior Society spokespersons. His sister, Wanda, was working at the Milwaukee phone company where we were building a rank and file caucus. His dad was a supervisor in the tribal sawmill.
One snowy day, I set out to drive up to the reservation to hand deliver a small donation that we had collected at a benefit in Madison. I wanted to go in person to suggest that they use the money to send buses of supporters to Quill’s trial which had been moved to Sparta. I probably shouldn’t have presumed to earmark the money, but that was how we were in those days.
The closer I got to Shawano, the more I wondered if I should just turn around and go back to Milwaukee – so treacherous were the roads. I could only see the tracks of the car in front of me to stay on the road. I was in a nasty mood – a fight with my girlfriend earlier that day and low on blood sugar. Rather than go all the way to Keshena, I decided to stop at Neil Hawpetos’ house because it was the closest. Neal’s place was a hangout for young warriors.
Also in the mix was a young anarchist from the Upper Peninsula. As I was passing out “Free Quill – It’s Right to Rebel” buttons, he interrupted me and tried to embarrass me by asking me where we got the slogan “It Right to Rebel”. It was kind of a “dog whistle” phrase that leftists would understand as a quote from Mao about the Cultural Revolution in China. But leftism was the last thing I wanted to discuss. I snapped, grabbed him by the collar and pushed him against the wall.
At that moment the whole abode erupted into a huge brawl – all of the Indians quickly choosing sides against both white guys. Two of them were pummeling me – 250 pound Neil and a young guy who was sticking his fingers in my eyes. Then Neil picked up a 3 foot long electric space heater and bashed me over the head. Blood turned my white “T” shirt to red. I composed myself to say, “Hey Neil, I’m sorry for starting a fight in your house”. That seemed to appease him till I heard him say, “Where’s my shotgun? I want to kill this motherfucker.” But then he calmed down and had one of his guys drive me to the emergency room in Shawano for stitches.
As Quill’s court case proceeded in a far northern venue, tribe members and supporters attended. Quill was declared not guilty by an all-white jury in Sparta. One of his main alibi witnesses was Neil Hawpetos! In the weaving of human efforts to free Quill, I wonder about the true role that I had played. Life offers all of these ironies, especially to a guy like me who moved forward alone and without thinking more times that he should have.
One day at The Worker office I got a call from a woman named Terry Nigh. Her boyfriend, John Waubanascum, was one of the Warrior Society defendants. He had been killed by one of the tribal police before he could go to trial. John was a decorated Vietnam veteran who had shielded his fellow soldiers from an incoming hand grenade. Somehow he survived. He sold his purple hearts, his silver star, and his congressional medal for drinking money. He was disgusted with Vietnam. He wrote a letter to his dad saying that the Vietnamese that he killed looked just like his friends on the reservation. Terry wanted me to help her write a book about Wauby and the whole takeover. I was intrigued. I had always figured that I might someday write a book. But the load of my newspaper deadlines never let me clear time for the project. All these years, I’ve regretted not taking her up on it.
John was a Vietnam era Ira Hayes – “the whiskey-drinking Indian, the Marine who went to war”. Unlike the Pima Indian who helped raised the flag at Iwo Jima, John Waubanscum’s heroism has been largely forgotten. As I was researching for my memoirs, I found that Terry Nigh did, in fact, publish a biography entitled, “Deed or Death” in 2008.
The struggle ended with no tangible gains for the tribe. The monastery was deeded to the tribe for one dollar. But later the Alexian Brothers reneged. Then even later the mansion-like structure was set ablaze by unknown arsonists and burned to the ground.