“The Mazina’igan Wakai’igan (Red Cliff Tribal Library) will be a community-based learning center with access to the world of knowledge and the opportunity to gather, learn, and share the language, history, and cultural values of the Anishinaabe and the Red Cliff Community.”
At 5 am on a Sunday morning in early April, a small band of TLAM-ers (Instructor Omar Poler, and students Hannah Gray, Sarah Morris, and myself) left Madison to visit the Bad River and Red Cliff Ojibwe reservations and learn more about their current library projects. In particular, we were scheduled to attend the meeting of the Red Cliff Library board as part of the ongoing TLAM partnership with Red Cliff.
This being Wisconsin in spring, the weather was appropriately unpredictable as we made our way north. Snow, sleet, fog, and a little thunder and lightning in Wausau nearly undid the trip before it had barely begun. But after propping up our spirits with breakfast and coffee, we ventured forth in our little university-owned hybrid, albeit cautiously. I have to point out, in case you don’t already know, how beautiful this part of Wisconsin is. The forests seem to stretch on forever, and the moisture heavy atmosphere hanging low over the trees lent a gentle sleepy feel to the landscape despite the bracingly cold rain that continued to fall throughout the day.
Finally, we made it past the bad weather up to the Bad River reservation to meet with tribal chairman Mike Wiggens Jr., librarian Norma Soulier, and the Rural Libraries Project team of Dan White and Sarah Wynn. The Bad River reservation is in the midst of an attempt to convert a fire-damaged former health clinic into a new library facility for the tribe. They are rapidly running out of space at their current library location nearby and are hoping the clinic can be renovated to suit their needs. We initially met with Norma, Dan and Sarah inside the old clinic as they inspected the now gutted building and talked about possible uses for the space. The building looked like it could be new construction, a small patch of charred support beams laced underneath an opening in the roof the only indication of the fire that forced the building to be abandoned. Dan and Sarah, who are based in Atlanta, GA took pictures and measurements. Afterward we returned to the current library where we met with tribal chairman Mike Wiggins and more plans were discussed.
After leaving the reservation we ate dinner with Dan and Sarah in Ashland. Dan White and Sarah Wynn created the Rural Libraries Project, a nonprofit dedicated to helping rural communities build sustainable library facilities. Although most of their work so far has been in the southern United States, they are currently building relationships with tribal communities here in Wisconsin and are proving to be an excellent resource as the tribes move forward with their library plans.
The following day we met up with them again in Bayfield and made our way just out of town to the Red Cliff reservation casino for a meeting with the newly formed Red Cliff Library Board. The board is in the midst of a project to build a new library and community center. Red Cliff has not has a library in many years and the community is eager to bring a new and improved library to the community. Plans are in the works to request a piece of land from the tribal council for the purposes of building the library, as well as other cultural buildings in the future. The meeting reflected an energetic and optimistic mood amongst the attendees. Library Board chairwomen Beth Paap led the meeting and Dan and Sarah discussed their ideas on how they can help the Red Cliff project. On our end, we discussed the grant opportunities we are researching for the library, including funds for both construction and programming. After the meeting wrapped, the TLAM group joined Dan and Sarah on a short fieldtrip out to the tentative future library site. Afterward we piled back into the car for the long trip back to Madison. It was a whirlwind two days, and we met with many great people and learned much that will help us with our piece of the Red Cliff project and beyond.
A week after our group returned from Red Cliff I, along with fellow TLAM-er Emma Zoch, had the opportunity to attend the State of the Tribes address at the state capitol. Representatives from Wisconsin’s 11 recognized tribes were present for the address. This year the address was given by Mike Wiggins Jr., tribal chairman for the Bad River reservation, whom I had the pleasure to meet during our visit to the Bad River library. The morning event started with an opening ceremony at the east entrance of the capitol. There was a procession around the building after which we were ushered through security lines to the Assembly Chamber gallery, where members of the public we allowed to watch the address along with members of the legislature. This event provided me with a unique opportunity to observe both the State Assembly in session as well as a highly important and symbolic communication between the tribes and the state political body.
Mr. Wiggins took the opportunity to speak about the economic contributions of our state’s tribes and to talk about environmental stewardship of our natural resources for the benefit of all Wisconsin residents and their descendents. After his speech the Assembly recessed for a reception and refreshments. The event was very well attended; the gallery was filled to capacity with tribal members, state and local government employees, members of university administration, university students, school children and the general public.