Miccosukee Indian and GM Baltimore plant manager Bill Tiger spoke at a recent GM Powertrain Lunch & Learn.

GM Baltimore plant manager William Buffalo Tiger spoke at a USA Melting Pot club Lunch and Learn at GM Powertrain Pontiac on Friday, January 30, 2015. Club President Weilou Gao gave a brief introduction of USA Melting Pot. Here are Weilou’s slides.

We had seen Bill Tiger’s post on the GM Fastlane blog regarding Native American issues and invited him to speak.

I knew him from the Northstar engine program, subject of my first GM Fastlane article when the Cadillac DTS went out of production at our Detroit-Hamtramck plant a few years ago. Bill had worked on Northstar engine manufacturing at our Livonia, Michigan plant, and I learned later about his Native background and Miccosukee tribal membership.

Here are the slides from Bill Tiger’s presentation to the USA Melting Pot club on January 30, 2015.

Tribal Lands

Most U.S. tribal lands are west of the Mississippi, but there are also many locations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and New York. Not many are located near GM manufacturing or engineering facilities, so it has been a challenge for GM to recruit employees. GM’s Native American Cultural Network has had several initiatives to try to change this pattern (see slides). Other high tech companies are located closer to the major concentrations of people with native ancestry (see maps).

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One exception to this pattern is Nikki DuPuy, who works in GM’s IT Innovation Center in the Phoenix area. Recently recognized by GM’s Diversity network, her biography was published in the “Driven” publication last month and is posted on our USA Melting Pot website. She is proud of her Navajo/French background; interestingly, her grandfather was one of the Navajo Code Talkers mentioned in Bill’s presentation.

Navajo Code Talkers

Navajo is a very difficult language to learn and had no words for military terms, so a secret code was developed during World War II. This code was not broken by the Japanese despite the capture and interrogation of a Navajo who knew nothing of the code. It was not declassified until 1968, so many of these war heroes were not allowed to talk about it.

Native Dolls and Clothing

Bill showed the diversity of Native dolls – different materials are available to Inuit, Delaware and his Miccosukee tribe. He showed his native vest and talked about how the Miccosukee and Seminole clothing is adapted to the coarse Everglades grass while remaining cool in the Florida heat.

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Boarding School History

Because his tribe had never been forcibly relocated like the Cherokee, (see Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown for more on this), Bill didn’t learn of the boarding school history until moving to Michigan to attend General Motors Institute (now Kettering University). Because no one in his family or tribe knew an engineer, the school’s unique work-study coop program for all students appealed to him.

There is a boarding school exhibit in the Ziibiwing Center museum in Mount Pleasant, Michigan (see picture and slides in his presentation).

From the 1870s to as recently as 1975, Boarding Schools were a formal policy of the U.S. government as a way to “Save the Natives.” Children identified as Indian were removed from their homes and sent to a boarding school. To this day, many natives are reluctant to disclose their heritage due to boarding school experiences.

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Fidel Castro and Cuba Connection

Smaller than the Seminoles in Florida, the Miccosukee were not recognized as a separate tribe by the U.S. government until the tribe met with a young Fidel Castro (see photo or slides) in Cuba. Castro offered to recognize them as a separate nation in the U.N. to embarrass the U.S. government, which had declared that no more tribes would be recognized after 1957. The U.S. relented and recognized the Miccosukee after this.

Some of the Miccosukee had retreated into the Everglades in the 1850s along with some of the Seminoles and never were deported to Oklahoma like the rest of the eastern tribes. (See Trail of Tears in 1838 on Timeline slide). So the 1000 member tribe was in a difficult spot when the State of Florida wanted to regulate their fishing and hunting. Without Federal recognition, they would have to fish and hunt during State seasons instead of having the freedom to live as they had for generations.

The Florida Miccosukee were not disloyal to the U.S. government, but frustrated with the bureaucracy. The Miccosukee had traveled from Florida to Cuba over the years; there was already a relationship between the Miccosukee and the Cuban people. When Castro offered to recognize the Miccosukee, he had not really developed into a full blown communist dictator… yet.

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History from the 1960s seems to be repeating itself in 2015 as the Cuban logjam is finally being broken by President Obama, with a Russian spy ship in Havana harbor as the diplomatic talks began. It remains to be seen how it will turn out, whether freedom will prevail for the Cuban people, or whether tyrants will continue to rule them. One view is Obama is behaving like Jimmy Carter and Neville Chamberlain, appeasing tyrants; others think he is like Gandhi or Desmond Tutu, negotiating peacefully. Time will tell.

Abraham Lincoln Connection

February 12 is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. You can read more about him and the Gettysburg Address on the USA Melting Pot website. Though Lincoln was primarily focused on keeping the Union together, preventing the expansion of slavery into the western territories, and eventually freeing the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, his Presidency did affect Indian policies.

The settlement of the West and the construction of the transcontinental railroad displaced many Indians from their lands.

However, it does look like Lincoln was reasonably neutral and fair towards the Indians, after an uprising in Minnesota, with unfair trials of the Dakota Indians after the fighting had stopped. More than 300 Indians had been sentenced to death.

After reviewing the court proceedings, which were conducted without attorneys for the defendants, President Lincoln’s order to Colonel Sibley—in his own handwriting—allowed the execution of only 39 of the 303 condemned Dakota.

his complete account of the story, written by Daniel W. Homstad, was originally published in the December 2001 issue of American History Magazine.

Far from being a harsh chief executive during an era when capital punishment was quite common for smaller crimes including desertion and sleeping on sentry duty, Lincoln disagreed with military trial courts 75 to 95 percent of the time. He disagreed with death sentences of civilians by military courts more than 60% of the time, but upheld 50 to 80 percent of death sentences for murder or rape.

 

Series to be continued…

Dale Murrish writes on history, travel, technology, religion and politics for the Troy Patch and USA Melting Pot club. You can help this non-profit club by making your Amazon purchases through the link on the left side of their website. You can also see over a dozen ethnic presentations from people with firsthand knowledge under Culture & Country (right hand side), and outdoor presentations (Hobby & Fun), including posts on bicycling, skiing and camping.

Under the  topic are places in Michigan to go cross country and downhill skiing.