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Author Antonio Doxtator describes first people in Milwaukee

Courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society

One doesn’t need to go far in Wisconsin to notice the deeply rooted Native American influence in the state — for starters you could simply look at the variety of Native American names that can be found on a map of the state.

However, beyond namesakes, and perhaps a few statues, accessing the rich history of Native Americans in Wisconsin can be quite an elusive task. Because of this Antonio Doxtator, author and enrolled member of Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, has dedicated himself to uncovering and proliferating this rich history.

Co-publisher of American Indians in Milwaukee and author of Warrior Spirit: 7 Generations of an Onieda Indian Family, Doxtator is especially interested in the Native American history here in Milwaukee.

“When we look at our Milwaukee history it goes back thousands of years to first settlements and the people that have been identified as living here first were the Mound Builders,” says Doxtator.

Not made up of a single tribe, the Mound Builders were made of several of what they called civilizations. As for how they got this name, it was a literal translation and Doxtator says that you can still find these mounds in various parts of Wisconsin.

“What was interesting about them was that they created a bunch of earth works and effigy mounds…there are a few that are still found here in Wisconsin like the Jefferson County mounds,” says Doxtator.

Doxtator describes why Milwaukee was such an alluring place to settle not only for Native Americans, but also for European colonizers who came later.

“Milwaukee was an important destination because it was located on such a major waterway,” says Doxtator. “People were able to travel as far as south of Chicago and connect to the Mississippi, and it was also close enough to Canada as well.”

Doxtator also explains while most Native American history stops at the 1800s, there is much more to be learned and understood about the history of Native Americans even into the present day.

“Starting in 1821 the Oneida Nation, which I’m a part of, whose homelands are in upstate New York extended an invitation to another tribe...and they came and resided on our land,” says Doxtator.

While events like this were not uncommon, Doxtator explained that they were usually ploys by America land companies to usurp the land from the Native American tribes who were living on it.

“Part of the missionaries' effort was to help displace the tribes and work with the government and land companies who wanted the land," says Doxtator.

From activism to restoration of culture, Doxtator says that Native Americans have been very active in the last 200 years and while most people know about their roots here, they continue to shape the future of this city.

“There are a lot of things that have happened in the last 200 years…American Indian people have been very active in the city’s culture, history and restoration,” says Doxtator.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Beck Andrew Salgado was a producer with Lake Effect.
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