“Everything in my life helped to make me who I am.”

In 2002 I had a stroke. It was odd because I didn’t even realize it was happening. A co-worker basically saved my life by noticing and taking action. We were both teachers in the Ojibwe Language program at the Lac du Flambeau Public School and I had to go on disability after the stroke.

Photo courtesy of Mildred Tinker Schuman

Mildred Tinker Schuman | Lac du Flambeau, WI

I think I might still have a little residual left even now. The stroke changed my life quite a bit, but it didn’t take my life. I did a lot of walking to exercise my body. Playing Scrabble on my computer helped to exercise my brain. I did a lot of healing.

At the time, people asked, ‘What’s going to happen now? What are you going to do?’ I told them, ‘The Creator has another plan for me.’ So, I wasn’t worried about it or depressed or anything. I’m still here today. That was a life-changing thing for me, and I just did a lot of healing and recovered from it. I’ve always been a spiritual person, and I believe things happen for a reason. What we think of as a bad thing, might be an opportunity for us to take a different direction in life, or return to the path we were meant to be on. It allowed me to return to my writing and my artwork.  

I think I’m meant to be a teacher, a helper, a writer, an artist. I taught a poetry class at Lac Courte Oreilles College. Then I joined up with Ancestral Women, a performance group inspired by the fiber art exhibit of the same name created by artist Mary Burns. Each of Mary’s weavings honors an ancestral woman from one of the twelve tribes in Wisconsin. Large banners of each of her weavings form the backdrop for our performance in which a woman from each of the tribes pays tribute to the woman represented in the banner. I was the co-founder and co-producer of that group. I’ve done a lot of poetry readings and cultural workshops. I had all these writings of poetry and I collected them in my first poetry book, called Reborn in the Sun. 

This fall The Center for Visual Arts in Wausau will be mounting a Retrospective art exhibit of my work. It started out with an idea sparked by the fact that I’m turning 75 this year. So, it’s called, ‘I’m 75.’  Different areas of the exhibit will show different periods of my life and also share stories of Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe life. I was born in 1946 so the first part of the exhibit will share photos of my parents’ home in my early life. It will also have photos of my grandparents, my parents, and siblings to give input on where I come from and how I lived in the forties. My poetry, prose, music, two-dimensional art, beadwork, and paintings will be woven throughout the exhibit. My new CD, ‘Ninagamo’, ‘My Songs’, will be available. My newest book, Baa Bii Dwe We Win-Sounds of Living will be available. 

In 2017, I was named Elder of the Year by the Wisconsin Indian Education Association. They thanked me for all my years as a teacher both formally and informally. They thanked me for always being there to help and for never giving up. It really made me feel good. Everything in my life helped to make me who I am. Going to Milwaukee Area Technical College years ago helped me find out I was a writer. I took a Creative Writing class from Shawnee/Cayuga poet and indigenous activist Barney Bush and found out there was such a thing as free verse writing, and I said, ‘Wow, I can write!’ I got married down there and I got divorced. I had my two beautiful children, a daughter and a son who have been the joy of my life. When I attended the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico I had planned on studying two-dimensional art, but they told me, ‘since you’re a writer, you should do that.’

My life has been an amazing journey.  I am grateful to have learned from everything that has happened and to be learning still. Nii Miigwech iwendam. I am grateful.

Mildred’s story was produced by Carol Amour.

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