Walt Bresette Memorial Highway,
Iron County, Wisconsin

Walt Bresette Walt helping to blockade mining trains at Bad River, 1996. Photo - Bob Olsgard
Walt Bresette


KKK-adopted road may soon be named after noted black

Phil Brinkman State government reporter
Wisconsin State Journal

When the Ku Klux Klan adopted a stretch of highway in northern Wisconsin two years ago, lawmakers countered by trying to rename the road.

Two years later, they still can't agree on whom to pick as the person who best symbolizes opposition to the bigotry advocated by the KKK.

After legislators learned of the KKK's interest in picking up litter along the two-mile stretch of Highway 122 in Iron County near Hurley, state Rep. Gary Sherman, D-Port Wing, proposed a bill naming the road after Walter Bresette.

Bresette, a member of the Red Cliff band of Lake Superior Chippewa and an environmental and civil rights activist, died in 1999.

The bill passed the then-Democratic-led state Senate but died in the Republican-controlled Assembly. Republicans said naming the road after an Indian didn't drive home the point that the KKK has mostly targeted blacks.

Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, then proposed naming the highway after Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist who led hundreds of slaves to freedom in the North through the Underground Railroad.

That bill passed the Assembly but died in the Senate.

Last February, Bies re-introduced the measure. While they felt the name was closer to the target, Bies' Republican colleagues said they wanted someone with Wisconsin roots.

Bies did some research and hit upon the name of Sherman Booth, editor of The Free Democrat who led a protest against the arrest of fugitive slave Joshua Glover in 1854. The crowd ultimately bashed in the jail doors, freeing Glover. Booth was fined and jailed, but the case fueled the abolition movement in Wisconsin.

Although Democrats on the Assembly Transportation Committee objected to replacing Tubman, a black woman, with the name of a white man - a New York native to boot - the committee voted 9-6 along party lines to name the road after Booth.

After meeting with members of the Legislature's black caucus, Bies hit the history books again. On Tuesday, when the bill is expected to come up for a vote in the Assembly, he'll offer another amendment, to name the road after Ezekiel Gillespie.

Gillespie, a leader of the black community in Milwaukee, is credited with bringing suffrage to black men (but not women). He sued for the right to vote in 1865, and the Supreme Court ruled in his favor the next year.

"I wasn't really set on exactly who" to name it after, Bies said. "(I just wanted) somebody with a good tie to slavery to show that people in Wisconsin stood up to that."

Sherman said he regrets lawmakers did not endorse his original choice, adding it's been tough on the Bresette family. But he said he applauded Bies' efforts to find a name both houses, now controlled by Republicans, can endorse.

"I feel Garey's heart's in the right place and I'm certainly not going to do anything to offer an impediment to that," Sherman said.



Bresette Highway bill tabled by WI Assembly Republicans


Ashland Daily Press - Editorial
October 29, 2001

Drive down Wisconsin State Highway 122 in Iron County and you'll find some cheerful rainbow signs announcing a portion of the roadside has been "adopted" for trash pick-up by the Mercer Ku Klux Klan group. What you won't find on that highway anytime soon are signs declaring it the "Walt Bresette Memorial Highway." When Assembly Republicans Wednesday used their majority to table a bill naming that highway in honor of the late social activist Walter Bresette, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Chippewa, they did our state a disservice. By not acting to honor someone whose life was dedicated to social justice and peace, they gave unspoken approval to intolerance.

The bill was introduced in August by Rep. Gary Sherman, D-Port Wing, giving our Legislature the opportunity to make a powerful statement about its belief in equal rights for all. A companion Senate bill, introduced by Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, cleared that chamber without dissent.

Leading the fight against the bill in the Assembly was Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, who pointed to Bresette's criminal record as proof he was undeserving of a state honor. Besides some traffic forfeitures, Bresette's record includes a 1992 forfeiture for trespassing onto the site of the Ladysmith mine in Rusk County and unpaid taxes relating to a failed business venture outstanding at the time of his death in 1999.

Bresette's trespassing forfeiture was related to his environmental activism, and the event -- in which he did no criminal damage -- is recounted in his book, "Walleye Warriors." As for being a tax deadbeat, perhaps a more charitable interpretation is that when one dies unexpectedly at age 51, there is often unfinished business left behind.

Still, Suder said if the state is to name a public place after someone, that person should have a "stellar record." It's a good thing the Missouri Legislature didn't adopt Suder's high standards in naming a portion of a highway adopted by the KKK in honor of Rosa Parks. After all, Parks was arrested in 1955 for sitting in the front of the bus.

And it's a good thing the Nobel Peace Prize Committee didn't have such high standards, either, in 1964 when giving that honor to civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. At that time, King had been jailed some 14 times for participating in peaceful protests. For that matter, it's good Congress overlooked King's less than stellar criminal record when naming a national holiday in his honor.

Is Bresette deserving of an honor? He was a Vietnam-era Army veteran proud of his service to our country, buried with military rites. He helped found the witness for non-violence movement and worked to assure the sovereignity of tribal people. He worked at the boat landings during the tense years when Chippewa first began exercising their right to a tribal fish harvest to ensure the peace was kept. His work at the landings helped create an awareness of the need to build bridges between tribal and non-tribal people in Wisconsin. That awareness resulted in the the Legislature requiring Wisconsin students learn about treaty rights. He helped found the Lake Superior Green party, the Midwest Treaty Network, was a founding board member of the WOJB public radio station and helped organize spiritual sobriety gatherings among tribes. He had a degree in art, and served on state arts agency boards, and still found time to teach children about traditional ways.

Bresette is a man worth honoring -- which, ironically, the Assembly has already acknowledged. After his death, the Assembly passed a resolution honoring his life and work. The resolution resulted in a citation Rep. Sherman presented Bresette's family at a pow wow at the Bayfield school. Bresette was not a perfect man, but in considering honor one should balance achievements against shortcomings. Bresette could at times be irritating and his politics undoubtedly ruffled some feathers. But he was all about tolerance and people learning to understand each other. Exactly what the KKK is not.

Sherman said Thursday he doesn't "have the heart" to try and name that stretch of highway after anyone else, and may reintroduce the Bresette bill in an upcoming short session.

Before being tabled, the bill had passed the Assembly Transportation Committee on a 15-1 vote and had been endorsed by Department of Transportation Secretary Terry Mulcahy.

The Assembly Republicans have dishonored Walt Bresette and given the KKK a victory in one thoughtless action. If Sherman reintroduces the bill, they will have a to clearly say Wisconsin is a state that values diversity, not hate.

Rep. Scott Suder was also the sole vote against AB-483 in Committee. His e-mail is Rep.Suder@legis.state.wi.us The bill's sponsor, Rep. Gary Sherman, is at Rep.Sherman@legis.state.wi.us




Assembly Bill 483 was introduced on Thursday, August 23, 2001 by Rep. Gary Sherman (D-Port Wing) to give the name "Walt Bresette Memorial Highway" to Highway 122--the KKK's "Adopt-a-Highway" in Iron County, Wisconsin. The same day, the Assembly Committee on Transportation voted 14-1 to approve the bill (with Rep. Suder as the only 'no' vote). AB-483 renames the stretch of Highway 122 "in recognition and appreciation of the life of Walt Bresette, a member of the Red Cliff band of Lake Superior Chippewa who worked passionately on issues concerning social justice, the environment, and tribal sovereignty." The bill should come up in the October floor session. Please write/e-mail/call both your Assembly Representatve and State Senator (addresses at http://treaty.indigenousnative.org/wileg.html )

AB-483 can be accessed from http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2001/data/AB-483.pdf (FREE .pdf Reader Adobe Acrobat )(FREE .pdf Reader Adobe Acrobat ). The sponsors are Representatives Sherman, Stone, Plouff, Staskunas, Ryba, Young, Turner, Williams, Bies, Berceau, Coggs, Black, Miller, J. Lehman, Boyle, Lippert, La Fave, Musser, Pocan, Richards, Sykora and Bock; cosponsored by Senators Jauch, Moore, Burke and Baumgart. Bill history at http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2001/data/AB483hst.html

Also, Michael McQueeney's Mercer-based Klan is holding a recruitment rally Saturday, Aug. 25 at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul; there will be a huge community response, like the one Walt organized in Ironwood, Mich. four years ago. See http://www.cantheklan.org



Editorial by Ashland Daily Press
Ashland, Wisconsin
Saturday, July 21, 2001

The bit of State Highway 122 stretching north-south between Upson and Saxon isn't heavily used. But those who traveling between the two tiny Iron County communities will soon see something new: a cheery rainbow Adopt-A-Highway sign pronouncing the two-mile piece of 122 to be "adopted" by the Mercer Ku Klux Klan chapter.

Michael C. McQueeney, grand dragon of the Mercer group, applied for the permit May 24. On the advice of DOT legal counsel, the permit has been approved and the signs are being ordered, according to Dan Grasser, director of Department of Transportation District 7, headquartered in Rhinelander.

While McQueeney has said his organization wants to "clean up its image" by performing a public service, it is likely he is just as keen to see some publicity for the KKK as he is to pick up litter. That's because the KKK got lots of attention when a chapter applied for a permit to clean a stretch of Missouri highway south of St. Louis. Missouri tried to deny the permit, taking the fight all the way to the Supreme Court, which in March of this year turned down a Missouri appeal.

Based on Missouri's experience, the DOT could do little but grant the permit, even if it grates to have a hate group pick up trash on the highway.

But there is another lesson to be learned from Missouri.

That state's Legislature decided although the Klan has a right to be there, it could find a way to say it doesn't approve of hate or hate groups. The stretch of road adopted by the Klan was named in honor of Civil rights icon Rosa Parks. So the KKK (which never did pick up any trash in Missouri, and ultimately lost its stretch of road) would have been cleaning up a highway honoring the black woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man.

Wisconsin should consider a similar action on Highway 122.

We would suggest naming Highway 122 in honor of the late Walt Bresette, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa widely known for his work on social justice issues, the environment and tribal sovereignty.

Bresette had friends of all races, and would likely have found a delicious irony in having the KKK keep "his" stretch of highway free of trash.

The right to free speech, and the right to hold beliefs most find abhorrent is part of our privilege as Americans. So is the right to protest.

In naming Highway 122 in honor of Bresette, the Legislature can make it clear we, as a state, don't condone hate.

Bill Would Rename Highway 122 for Activist:
Proposal a response to Wisconsin KKK joining Adopt-a-Highway program

By Todd Milbourn
Duluth News Tribune staff writer
August 8, 2001

Hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan could soon be seen cleaning up the side of a Wisconsin memorial highway honoring the late American Indian social justice activist Walter Bresette.

A bill drafted this month by state Rep. Gary Sherman, D-Port Wing, would designate state Highway 122 in Iron County the Walter Bresette Memorial Highway. The bill comes in response to the Ku Klux Klan's commitment to clean up roadside garbage on the same stretch of highway under the Adopt-a-Highway program. The Department of Transportation approved the group's request in June.

After learning of the DOT's approval of the Klan's request, Sherman said he was "disturbed," but maintained the supremacist group has every constitutional right to join the program.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down an appeal by the state of Missouri to bar the KKK there from membership in that state's Adopt-a-Highway program.

Sherman said his bill, which should be finished within a couple of days, was influenced by what Missouri lawmakers did next. They passed legislation renaming the KKK-adopted highway after Rosa Parks, the idea being, the supremacist group would be forced to clean up trash along a highway named in honor of a black civil rights leader.

When the Missouri KKK never cleaned the roadside, the state took away their stretch.

So, when an Ashland Daily Press editorial suggested renaming the road after Walter Bresette, Sherman said he jumped on the idea.

"I thought 'Walter, well that's a great idea.' He was a great leader and kind of a friend of mine," Sherman said.

Bresette was a well-known Anishinabe environmental and social justice activist. He died of an apparent heart attack in 1999. A member of the Red Cliff Band of Chippewa, he helped found the Red Cliff Cultural Institute, the Lake Superior Greens and the Midwest Treaty Network, an alliance of area groups supporting treaty rights.

"He was sort of the Martin Luther King of northern Wisconsin," said Sandy Lyon, a longtime friend of Bresette's. "That's why people are feeling this way with evil popping its head up."

But the KKK appears undeterred in its plan to clean up Highway 122.

Michael McQueeney of Mercer, a grand dragon for the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said about 10 to 20 uniformed Klan members will begin cleaning up the trash once a month when workers erect the Adopt-a-Highway signs. "It's good for the community and it gives us some good publicity," he said.

McQueeney added that he would not be opposed to renaming the road after a man who denounced racism.

"I don't care if it was Martin Luther King highway, if that's what they want to do," he said. "That's what diversity and America is all about."

KKK adopts Highway 122 Adopt a Highway - KKK


Walt Bresette not only founded the Witness for Nonviolence during the Wisconsin Chippewa spearfishing crisis in 1987-92, but also led the witnessing of Michael McQueeney's KKK rally in Ironwood, Mich. in 1997 (another McQueeney KKK rally is planned soon in St. Paul, Minn.). We can send a strong message by getting the "Klan's" stretch of highway named after Walt Bresette and what he stood for http://treaty.indigenousnative.org/bresette.html

State legislative transportation committees are the ones who would approve and pass on a highway name change. So please send this Ashland Daily Press editorial to these legislators (especially if you are in their district) and offer your own feelings. Also contact your own legislator via mail, e-mail, or toll-free phone http://treaty.indigenousnative.org/wileg.html


P.O. Box 1045, Eau Claire, WI 54702
Web: http://www.treatyland.com
Toll-free Hotline: 800-445-8615

Contact: Andrew Gokee
715-346-4147 agokee@uwsp.edu
or Debi McNutt/Zoltan Grossman

More Than 1,000 Blast Klan

By Amy Mayron and Murali Balaji
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Sunday August 26, 2001

....A crowd of anti-Klan protesters, which state troopers estimated at 1,200 but organizers said numbered 2,000, strained the fences that kept them from getting too close to speakers. They shouted, banged on drums and blew horns, drowning out KKK speakers' message of hate. About 46 people, half claiming to be from the Ku Klux Klan of Mercer, Wis., stood on the steps of the Capitol. The rest were members of the National Socialist Movement of Minneapolis. Four people were dressed in KKK robes and a dozen wore Nazi uniforms.

For the most part, the rallies were peaceful. State Patrol troopers arrested three people for jumping over barricades and charged them with disorderly conduct. A fourth person, who showed up about 10:45 a.m. as police were preparing, also was arrested for disorderly conduct after he threatened troopers. Police did not think he had anything to do with the Klan or protesters.

Only a handful of Klan sympathizers showed up: one with a sign that read "KKK -- I support" and another wearing a white T-shirt with a Confederate flag on it. The only place they could go to hear the Klan was with the hundreds of protesters, many of whom crowded them, getting into their faces and screaming at them to go away.

"I wanted to hear what the Klan had to say," said Roxanne Jungclaus, 46, of Maplewood, who said she is a member of the National Organization for the Advancement of White People. Her bag bore a sticker saying, "Never apologize for being white." "Our motto is equal rights for all, special privileges for none," she said.

Security was extraordinarily tight. Klan members met at an undisclosed location away from the Capitol, where troopers walked them through metal detectors to make sure they weren't carrying weapons. They were then bused to the Capitol complex and led into the building through the underground tunnels.

Protesters were kept across the street from the Capitol steps by temporary metal fences and a line of about 100 state troopers. Troopers made them remove flags and signs from sticks, which could have turned into weapons.

The Klan and Socialist Movement members were kept to the top five or six steps of the Capitol. Troopers pushed them up the steps if they descended too far. No one, including media, was allowed to approach them. The turnout of anti-Klan demonstrators surprised even some of the organizers of the event.

"I think it's amazing how many people showed up," said Erika Bjorum of Can the Klan. "I'm so inspired by the diversity of the people who've shown up. The whole community has responded to this."

In between shouting anti-KKK and anti-hate slogans, the Can the Klan speakers urged attendees to be peaceful. Those in attendance represented a cross-section of protest groups, ranging from the Communist Party to gay and lesbian rights groups.

The Klan and Socialist speakers smiled at the sight of so many protesters. Each of about a dozen who took the podium thanked everyone for coming before railing at them for their races and religions. Although it was hard to hear their names and exactly what they were saying, the racist words rose above all the shouting.

"I want to thank all you nonhuman beasts," said one man, who identified himself as a national knight of the Ku Klux Klan. "It was so nice of all you spics, kikes and niggers to welcome us."

The more the speakers talked about their hatred of African-Americans, immigrants, Jews and homosexuals, the angrier and louder protesters got. At one point, the protesters hurled eggs and bread toward the steps and burned a dummy of a robed Klansman.

Police didn't move or flinch at the agitated crowd. Although more than 200 extra troopers and St. Paul police officers waited in full riot gear, they did not show themselves to protesters and never had to be called. The State Patrol spent about $40,000 to staff and prepare for the rally.

Before the Capitol rally, about 150 people met at the Fitzgerald Theatre in downtown St. Paul for an anti-Klan gathering sponsored by the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, the Coalition of Black Churches and other civic groups. A parade of high-profile attendees -- including U.S. Sens. Paul Wellstone and Mark Dayton, Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, several state legislators, as well as local officials from Minneapolis and St. Paul -- then marched to the Capitol.

After an hour of speeches, the State Patrol escorted the Klan back into the Capitol building to bus them away from St. Paul. The crowd cheered and then quickly dispersed. Two hours later, the state Republican Party, on behalf of the Minnesota Black Republican Coalition, held a unity event inside the Capitol.

"We're reclaiming the Capitol in the name of peace and the name of love," said Lucky Rosenbloom, head of the Black Republican Coalition. "In the end, love, joy, peace and God will prevail."

For updates/information, contact Can the Klan at 651-649-4579 or cantheklan@mintygreen.com , or log on http://www.cantheklan.org

Photos of Aug. 25 rallies in St. Paul http://www.circlevision.org/archive/events01/cantheclan082501/canklan3.html



Hurley, WI Chamber Welcomes 2nd White Supremacist Bar

Antibigot Press Release

The Hurley Chamber of Commerce has planned a ribbon cutting ceremony for the grand opening of Iron County's second white supremacist bar, the "Roadhouse Bar", in Pence, Wisconsin. Public Room Tax money collected from the non-white owners of Hurley's Ramada Inn and Silver Street Motel (formerly the "White Way Motel") will be funding the Chamber's activities. The ceremony will be held at 4:30 pm, January 19, 2001. The Roadhouse Bar is owned by brothers Gary and Hilary Koss, who have owned and operated Iron County's first white supremacist bar, "Johnnie's Bar", in Mercer, Wisconsin, for the past decade. The lead bartender at Johnnie's Bar is Michael McQueeny, Grand Dragon of the Wisconsin Ku Klux Klan.

An Iron County resident entered the Roadhouse Bar (which was already open for business) New Years day, and the first words out of the bartender's mouth were "If your a Niger, Jew or Queer, your not welcome here." Is this a portent of things to come? Roadhouse Bar owner Gary Koss was present when the statement was made and did not object. The Roadhouse Bar is located on State Highway 77, as well as being located on snowmobile - ATV trail # 77, Iron County's main east - west tourist run.

You can read the Ironwood Daily Globe announcement of the Grand Opening at http://snow.prohosting.com/rights/roadhouse.jpg

Please see http://snow.prohosting.com/rights/index1.htm for more information on Iron County's white supremacist activities.



McQueeny Klan Rally in Ironwood, MI,
Sept. 16, 1997

Will Fantle

The KKK announced a few weeks back that they would hold a rally supporting "racialism" and their version of white power in the Michigan/Wisconsin border community of Ironwood. I see the northwoods as my backyard and felt compelled to confront these purveyors of hate, to at least let them know that I didn't care for their rhetoric. This view is partly fired by what I saw earlier this decade at the boat landings where mobs of angry whites (many drunk and filled with racism) harrassed the Chippewa who were carrying out their treaty rights during their Spring spearing activities. Then I was part of an organized effort of people who went to the landings to try and help moderate or defuse the potential for mob violence.

In Ironwood, I didn't know what to expect. I knew that some KKK opponents were holding a counter rally at a local church and urging people to stay away from the KKK, but that's not my style - I think you learn more by seeing the hatemongers in action and sharing views and mixing feelings with others in the crowd. A couple friends and I went north on Friday, another car from Eau Claire was heading up the next day so I knew at least be a few of us would directly protest the Klan.

I was amazed by two occurances in Ironwood, and heartened by one of them. About 250 people showed up to protest the Klan. Much of this crowd was made up of younger people incensed by the pointed appearance of organized racism in our backyard. This was heartening. Perhaps a dozen Klan supporters were in the crowd.

The other amazing occurance was the police presence. I would estimate about 80 cops were there to control the event. They had rigged a snowfence around the courthouse, where the event was set to occur, and controlled entrance onto the grounds through two locations; they seached pockets, frisked people, and ran a metal detector over our bodies. (Some of the women, including one friend of mine, complained about the detailed search which included bra checks - I guess you could hide a grenade in there or, heaven forbid, a tomato. Me, I realized I wasn't going to get my pepper spray in, and probably didn't need it, but I was allowed to take my 35 mm camera in after I claimed membership in the paparazzi, drawing a smile from the man in blue checking me out)

The cops also made sure we couldn't get anywhere near the white sheets. We were separated from their small riser by a cyclone fence, with another phlanx of police facing us, and yet another fence. The dozen or so "hood"lums who caused all the commotion were brought into Ironwood via an orange school bus and escorted through the locked courthouse, out an exit, and onto their highly protected platform. They began their rally with some loud rockin music from a boom box, but the lyrics were largely unitelligible. Then came the hateful rhetoric. Roughly every third word out of each speaker's mouth was a slur against some member of society - blacks, jews, Indians, gays, women, asians, and latinos were frequent targets, as were many of in the crowd who roared back with our disapproval.

One KKK speaker repeatedly voiced the name and address of a local gay man and urged people to deal with him. Of course, they had the PA and amplifier and I've learned from many rallies that those with the louder voice get their message heard. It's also easy to be a tough guy when your vile oration carries no immediate consequences, as would not have been the case had the crowd been separated from the sheets.

So, for two hours, the KKK spewed forth, converting few if any to their cause. They concluded with another loud song, saluted (in a Nazi-esque way), and were escorted back onto the school bus and out of town.

Many in the community of Ironwood had adopted another way of displaying their displeasure by placing orange ribbons and bows on mailboxes, storefronts, and other public spots to protest the KKK. This too was heartening. I don't know if the KKK will formally return to our northwoods but I know that many will again challenge them if they do. Organized racial hate flourishes and is emboldened when we sit quietly or feign indifference. The KKK's posters for their rally carried the slogan, "you snooze, you lose." The words apply to us, too.


Important: Any groups or individuals planning memorials for Walt Bresette, or publishing his writings, should first inform and consult with his family: Cass, Katie, Claudia, and Robin. They can be reached at cjoy@mdcorp.org

The Midwest Treaty Network

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