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Strong Unrelenting Spirits The North American Landscape • Identity Genocide I am an Indian First and an Artist Second

 

Mark G. Thiel, Adopted Ho-Chunk, 2012

Mark was born July 10, 1950 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to George A. and Esther C. (Wleczyk) Thiel, two second-generation Euro-Americans of Austrian-German (Lutheran) and Polish (Catholic) heritage. The cultural differences between his parents’ Central European family backgrounds along with the cultural diversity of growing up in the Milwaukee area during the 1950s–1960s stimulated curiosity in ethnic differences, coupled with awareness that Indians were the real natives of America (endowed with certain inalienable aboriginal rights) and all others were recent transplants.

Mark had an inexplicable interest and curiosity about local Native Americans, which he cultivated further while growing up. When questioned, his parents and his paternal/maternal grandparents had stories to tell about their rural native neighbors in Clark (Ho-Chunk) and Brown – Shawano (Oneida, Menominee) Counties, which he listened to with fascination. As a Boy Scout his first merit badge was “Indian Lore” and eventually he became an Eagle Scout. He later became friends with many Native students, including Ho-Chunk Nation members Jean Ann Day and Michael Winneshiek, and was a founding member of the Native student association, American Indians Reaching for Opportunity.
 
During his time in the Wisconsin Dells he became the school bus driver for the Indian Heights – Stand Rock Rd. route, where a confrontation with a student escalated into one with a parent, which caused the influential elder Rose Minor, daughter of Aho Cho Ka (Blue Wing), to aid Mark’s defense. She demanded to the parent, “Stop hitting my grandson!” Unknown then to Mark, Rose Minor admired the attention he gave to her younger grandsons, and because he had no family living nearby, she acted to provide protection and a formal adoption ceremony followed a couple of weeks later at the Indian Heights Powwow.  Kenneth Funmaker, Sr., officiated, which included a giveaway by the Rose Minor’s relatives to the parent of the student who felt offended.

In retrospect, Mark realizes that his adoption into the Ho-Chunk tribe has enriched his life greatly and expanded his perspective on the meaning of commitment, relationships, and reality.  From the meaningful relationships made in Indian Heights he made a commitment to giveback to Native America, and Ho-Chunks in particular, where possible. From the Dells, Mark went on to become the first professionally trained archivist to work in a permanent position on any Indian reservation, which was at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation from 1983-1986. From there he returned to Marquette University in his hometown in 1986 where today he administers Marquette’s collections of Catholic records about Native American peoples. Also in 1986 Milwaukee’s Indian Community recruited Mark as a founding volunteer of Indian Summer Festival, which he served for ten years as a committee chair and recruiter of outside Indian talent. On his deathbed, Kenneth Funmaker, Sr., gave Mark a “to do”, which included appointing Bill Winneshiek his successor of the Ho-Chunk Haylushka, and since then, Mark has served Bill faithfully as his whip man (Sgt. at Arms).

     

© Tom Jones, II