Waukau helped lead Menominee Indians - He also fought to protect tribe's environment
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Thursday, August 3, 1995
Author: Eldon Knoche
Hilary J. Waukau Sr., a respected leader of the Menominee Indian nation and an environmentalist until his death, died of heart failure Wednesday at Shawano Community Hospital. He was 72.
His wife, Edith, and most of his 11 children and many grandchildren were in the crowded hospital room with him when he died, one of his daughters said.
"He told us on his deathbed that he wants his children to continue his legacy of helping our people," Anne Waukau of Milwaukee reported, noting that two weeks ago he had led a protest against Exxon Corp.'s proposed zinc and copper mine at Crandon.
After he nearly died from a heart problem a decade ago, Waukau made a promise: "As long as there's a breath of life left in my body, I'll dedicate my remaining years to protecting my people from the degradation of our environment."
He also said he always remembered what his grandmother once told him: "No matter how great you get, how big you get, remember, you're basically a Menominee Indian. Don't ever forget where you come from."
In an interview about three months before his death, Waukau said, "In my life, the legacy I want to leave in anything I do . . . is that American Indians are a proud, strong people with a separate culture, separate beliefs and a separate way of doing things."
Since 1952, he served as tribal vice chairman, county administrator, reservation judge and other tribal offices. He was the first chairman of the Menominee County Democratic Party, holding the office from 1959-'64. He remained a member of the tribal legislature until he died.
Ada Deer, a Menominee tribe member who is assistant secretary of the interior for Indian affairs, remembered him Wednesday as a "true Menominee statesman who will be greatly missed by our tribe."
"He had great stamina, energy and respect for everyone," said Deer, who said she'd known Waukau's family since childhood.
He worked with seven Wisconsin governors and traveled through the United States on tribal business.
Last year, the Menominee named their new environmental building in Keshena the Hilary J. Waukau Sr. Forestry and Environmental Protection Center.
Born on Oct. 13, 1922, in Neopit, where he still lived, Waukau was one of 12 children.
He served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the South Pacific in World War II, going ashore under fire, and was among the first Americans in Nagasaki after the atomic bomb was dropped.
"When I saw the Japanese dying of radiation poisoning, I made a vow to protect my people and their land," he said nearly a half century later.
But when he returned home after the war, wearing his sergeant's uniform, a bartender near the reservation refused to serve him because he was Indian.
In 1986, he helped stop a U.S. Department of Energy plan to store nuclear waste under prime Menominee timberland. He also fought Wisconsin Electric Power Co.'s efforts to build above- ground nuclear waste storage facilities at the Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant.
In addition to his wife and Anne Waukau, he is survived by his daughters Stephanie Henry of Las Vegas; Lenore Schwulst of Fort Bragg, N.C.; Natalie Henry of Balston Lake, N.Y.; and Lorie and Juanita Waukau, both of Keshena ; and his sons, Hilary Jr. of Longmont, Colo.; Jeff of Shawano; Berard of Two Rivers; Mark of Keshena ; and Mitchell of Neopit.
He was preceded in death by two daughters, Kim and Mary Lou.
The funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday with the location pending. Born-Swedberg Funeral Home in Shawano is handling arrangements.