Tom Maulson is a tribal judge, activist and tribal chairman from Lac du Flambeau.
We interviewed Mr. Maulson as part of the Lac du Flambeau Project on March 3, 2019. Mr. Maulson began by telling us it was an honor to tell the Ojibwe story. There are 565 bands of Indian nations in America.
He went on to say the following:
Getting into education, in our school system if we still had the old bureau mentality, Indian people were reluctant to speak out against the system. I think there’s some major changes today as tribal leaders like myself and other leaders out there have that opportunity to want what was obligated to us through treaty rights or agreements with the federal government, with different legislators, with the state of Wisconsin and whatever. And I guess that’s probably my rule to make that happen for my people.
Once you are a leader, you never stop leading. It is about understanding what we get up in the morning for. It is usually the white man who tells you what to do – like building public schools — so we need to know the white spirit better.” When Maulson became Tribal Chairman, he took on the State and the Tribe. He was told not to fly Native flags but he flew them anyway.
Ojibwe people still behave in ceremonial ways. They say thank you to grandfather sun who rises in the east. They get up to hear they animals and birds coming back.
Act 31 came about due to the first people, the Anishinabe people. The Anishinabe people are still men and women warriors. They believe in what their forefathers taught. They went to jail for the rights to hunt, fish and gather. These rights were put there for the people to survive. Now, under ACT 31, the State of Wisconsin is obligated to educate students about the so-called “real world” in which there are Native churches and believers out there. Native tradition is oral—not written in books. The white man does not believe in Native stories. They are hard to comprehend. This is why Native kids are struggling in schools.
Local mission schools did all the things that white people called “the right way” and caused suffering (standardization). They do not want to look at the Anishinabe way. For example, Anishinabe people never had calendars. When birds came home, it signaled the change in the season. We get caught up in the white world. I guess we have to. There are very limited stories that told the future of Indian people. This future has moved fast in our lifetimes.
Maulson said he is a “half-breed.” His father is white and his mother a full blood. He learned about racism in service. “Fifteen miles away people hate us but we don’t have the right to hate.”
Maulson did everything on the reservation in his lifetime. “Been there. Done that.” He has told white legislators what needed to be done. “If you don’t say it, people will assume what you mean. Indian people have got to fear these men and their words. It is sad that America has come to this. Does Wisconsin, America owe something to Indian people? Damn right they do. They took all this land for their own use. We have to be slicker than the people who run the school district.” Maulson can’t understand why political leaders don’t ask what is going to happen tomorrow when stories are no longer being told.
We need to make some changes and get back to who we are. We have been underestimated–we do what the white man says. Their Constitution is sacred to whites. We supported casinos but knew it would bring problems in thinking. They are living off us. We get nothing from the State.”
Act 31 has not done its job. It does not tell students what they need to know.” Maulson talked about his light-skinned descendant—his granddaughter. He sent his granddaughter an eagle feather but she is not allowed to wear it because she is ‘not Indian.’ Who makes that determination? (It’s about visual distinctions). “All of the kids are good. It’s all about how you raise them. The history of how Native people have been treated is complex. It has been a history of historical trauma.”
Maulson told the story of a white person asking, “Where is the reservation?” This person left in a hurry when he learned that he was right in the middle of it!
Maulson talked about how the cleansing brought about by sweat lodges put a protective armor around him. When he was tribal chair, Maulson banned drugs on the reservation. He also banned men from beating their wives. “These are things that need to be told.”
What needs to change?
- Students need to think about what their goals in life will be. You have got to know what these goals are before you can push your leaders in this direction. Look in the archives; ask pertinent questions.
- Schools don’t encourage teaching (critical dialogue?) about who is President: Trump or the Ojibwe President.
- Students are supposed to follow the laws of Waswagoning—the Ojibwe name for Lac du Flambeau. Maulson believes in these laws, and in the stories of yesteryear. There should be a class in school just on these stories. People should know that they could go to jail if they shoot deer on the white man’s land. $100 million has been paid out by the tribe as protection money. “
We are charged to live on our own land…see what they have done to us.
- People should read the Ojibwe constitution.
- Act 31 can be used to educate Indian people and non-Indian people about each other. During the fish wars, vets turned their backs on Indian people when they marched in parades. Indian people are struggling with the Native language.
We need to take more time to determine what needs to be done. We need to make sure that our lines are drawn straight.