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Milwaukee commemorates International Human Rights Day

By Ryan Hamann |
December 12, 2022
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Sarah Wunderlich of the Oneida Nation discusses Indian Child Welfare Act and wha
Sarah Wunderlich of the Oneida Nation discusses Indian Child Welfare Act and what it represents in the broader struggle for indigenous sovereignty (Fight Back! News/staff)

Milwaukee, WI – On the evening of December 10, more than 40 people packed into the community room at Zao MKE Church to listen to a lineup of speakers commemorating the 64th International Human Rights Day. A highlighted speaker was Sarah Wunderlich of the Oneida Nation who joined the program to talk about the current Supreme Court case trying to undermine the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), including some history about the system of boarding schools, the effects this still has on the present, and how these things relate to the broader struggle for indigenous rights.

“General Richard Pratt coined the phrase, ‘Kill the Indian, save the man,’ you know, ‘take their children away.’ That’s our future. As Oneida people, as Haudenosaunee people, we don’t just make decisions for ourselves or for our children. We make decisions for the seventh generation,” Wunderlich said. “They tried to take that from us, and they were successful to some extent, but not completely because we’re still here.”

Wunderlich continued, “After boarding schools ended, other things took their place. The next thing they start doing is sterilizing our women without them knowing it. Then, when what was happening came to light, they just started taking our children. Social workers, ISC, they would come in and say, ‘You’re poor, you’re unfit,’ ‘You live on the reservation, you’re unfit.’ Up to 30% of our kids were lost to the foster system. It’s all under the same system – ‘Kill the Indian to save the man.’ You take our language away, you take our families away, you take away our connection to Mother Earth.”

“If there came to be an enrolled indigenous child that needed to be adopted, ICWA made it so that that child would be kept within the same nation, or if no one could be found, at least with other indigenous people,” said Wunderlich. “Gibson Dunn are the attorneys for Chevron, Walmart. What is their interest with a custody case like with the Brackeens? That’s been the big question. Now they’re saying ICWA is unjust, that ICWA is racist against white people. So they wanna do away with it, that it shouldn’t be decided at the federal level but by the states. If you start looking at ICWA and some of its foundational pieces, it touches on fundamental issues of sovereignty. It’s not just about Indian babies, it's about sovereignty and our right to self govern.”

Wunderlich went on, “ICWA is personal for me. I have my boy here, and my baby at home, but they’re my sister’s kids. I have them because of ICWA. They’re not living with strangers, they’re not living in a strange town; they’re at home in their community, right where they belong. So it’s not just my sovereignty; it’s my children. My kids go to tribal school, they participate in tribal ceremonies, they learn their language, but someone’s gonna come in and try to take that away from them because they thought they were treated unjustly. They’re going to try to talk to indigenous people about being treated unjustly.”

Patricia Fish of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization told the crowd, “Everyday, Americans battle police brutality, the oppression of indigenous peoples, immigrants are demonized if they aren’t white, hate crimes against the LGBTQ community happen on a daily basis, the U.S. has taken away a person’s right to bodily autonomy and the U.S. has some of the weakest labor protections for its workers. I could go on and on about the human rights violations that occur in the U.S., but that won’t solve anything.” 

Fish also stated, “All of us here know that the enemy is capitalism. Capitalism doesn’t care about people, it cares about profit and nothing is more profitable than oppressing people. What we need to do is to organize, to stand up and to fight back!”

The program wound up with the presentation of the very first Lucille Berrien Humanitarian Award, named in honor of one of Milwaukee’s most dedicated community organizers. Brian Verdin, another long-time Milwaukee organizer in the movements for peace and justice and also longtime associate of Berrien herself, was the inaugural recipient.

Other organizations present that put forward speakers included the Milwaukee Anti-war Committee, Reproductive Justice Action - Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Students for a Democratic Society at UW-Milwaukee, Veterans for Peace, and the Wisconsin Coalition to Normalize Relations with Cuba. Sponsor organizations included Peace Action of Wisconsin, Assange Defense MKE, Jewish Voice for Peace, Never Again MKE, and Students for Justice in Palestine at UW-Milwaukee.

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