UWM Indigenous American Faculty Influence Outcome of Kletzsch Park dam proposal

(below is only a portion of the full article. CLICK HERE FOR FULL ARTICLE as reported by Alison Dirr, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel originally published 1:23 p.m. CT Dec. 24, 2019 | Updated 2:02 p.m. CT Dec. 24, 2019)

Questions and concerns, including over the location of a fish passage, the fate of a grove of century-old trees and the level of consultation with American Indian communities, are slowing Milwaukee County’s action on the redesign of the Kletzsch Park dam in Glendale and could put outside funding for the project at risk.

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors’ Parks, Energy and Environment Committee has discussed the proposal at three meetings in recent months, including last week, when it was held over again without action.

The $2 million plan from Milwaukee County Parks includes a fish passage in the west side of the Milwaukee River; a scenic overlook, portage area and access to the water for people with disabilities; and dam repairs.

The plans for the redesign, which stem from a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources order that the county repair the dam, has met with public criticism from the beginning.

Before last week’s meeting, supervisors received a letter from a group of five professors and staff at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who expressed concerns about the “potential erasure of American Indian sacred land due to the development and gentrification of Kletzsch Park.”

They advocated for holding off taking action on the proposal Thursday in order to seek input from more members of the urban Milwaukee American Indian community and all nations that had a presence at the site.

Margaret Noodin, director of the Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education at UWM and one of the letter’s writers, told the Journal Sentinel that they sent the letter after talking with people with a range of perspectives. The purpose of the letter was not to take a position on any proposals but to urge further conversation and education, she said.

Bernard Perley, another of the letter writers and an associate professor of anthropology and American Indian studies, told the committee the fact that the mounds are no longer there doesn’t mean it isn’t still a sacred place.

He said the group does not oppose the goals of restoring native fish populations, plants and trees or the development of access to the park. But, he said, they are concerned about the continued erasure of Native voices and concerns.

Richard Kubicek, a historic preservation officer at the DNR, told the committee that he believed the department had achieved its goal of giving the process a good faith effort, reaching out on multiple fronts, considering options and inviting consultation.

He said the DNR received a general statement of support from the Wisconsin Inter-Tribal Repatriations Committee [a subcommittee of the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council] but was also asked to communicate with any concerned members who weren’t at a meeting between the committee and the DNR.

The committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lucas told the committee that rejecting this project could jeopardize future funding for projects aimed at cleaning up long-standing environmental contamination in the lower Milwaukee River basin and Lake Michigan.

The measure is scheduled to next be heard at the committee’s Jan. 28 meeting. Supervisor Jason Haas, the committee’s chairman, was the lone vote on the five-member committee against holding the item until the next meeting.