Gaylord Nelson Papers, 1954-2006 (bulk 1963-1980)

 
Contents List
Container Title
Box/Folder   4/17
No.   1255A/104-105
Miller, Bernice,1992 July 17, Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation, Wisconsin
Biography/History

Bernice (Davids) Miller Pigeon was born on September 1, 1918, in Big Lake, a small settlement outside Gresham, Wisconsin. She was the eldest of nine children, six girls and three boys. She lived with her grandparents in Red Springs while attending the local mission school for her first years of education, then later attended Gresham High School for two years. In 1934 she married Arvid Miller, a Stockbridge-Munsee Indian like herself. They eventually had ten children and remained married until his death in 1968. Later, Mrs. Miller married Oscar Pigeon, a Winnebago Indian.

During the war Mrs. Miller moved to Sturgeon Bay with her husband and four children in search of work. She found employment working the third shift in the Larson-Smith shipyards. She was employed as a welder, or as she put it, “a heater and shrinker.” She also worked seasonally in the cherry orchards and canning factories in Sturgeon Bay. At this time Mrs. Miller's husband was tribal chairman for the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, so they traveled back to the reservation about every other weekend for tribal council meetings.

Mrs. Miller, whose home had become an informal tribal archives during the period her husband was tribal chairman for twenty-six years, along with her sister, Dorothy Davids (whose interview also appears in this series), founded the Stockbridge-Munsee Historical Society and Library in the 1970s. Mrs. Miller still works on a part-time basis at the Historical Society.

Scope and Content Note

Mrs. Miller begins the interview by discussing the circumstances surrounding her family's move to Sturgeon Bay to work in the war industry. She describes her job as a “heater and shrinker” and her training. She also describes what it was like living in Sturgeon Bay and the difficulties in running a household while working the graveyard shift. She mentions that the families who lived in her apartment building and neighborhood tried to help out one another as much as possible. She also talks about what it was like to commute back to the reservation nearly every weekend so that her husband could fulfill his duties as tribal chairman.

Mrs. Miller mentions experiences she had that display some of the men's attitudes about women working in the shipyards. She also mentions rationing, describes the council meetings that went on in her home (where her job was to “make coffee and keep the kids quiet”), and the stigma she felt at the “no Indians allowed” signs that were displayed in many taverns and restaurants.

Mrs. Miller also talks about the loss of Stockbridge-Munsee culture and language, the years of Indian political awareness, and the establishment of the tribal historical society and library.