Home Academy Voice for the Tribes: Buck Martin Recalls Youth on Reservation, Career in...

Voice for the Tribes: Buck Martin Recalls Youth on Reservation, Career in Politics

Waldo "Buck" Martin outside his west side home. Photo by Ruben Elvira

This piece was produced by a student reporter in the Madison365 Academy for the I Am Madison project. To learn more and support our educational programming, visit madison365.org/academy.

Buck Martin was originally named Waldo after a highly regarded pastor in his community. He lived in a rural area and there were plenty of meadows and many wild raspberries and blueberries to find. Buck’s mother would take her children down to the meadows to pick berries. They made little berry pails out of tin cans with little wire handles on them. “We were so proud of our little pails,” Martin remembers.

He remembers sleeping in the back seat of the station wagon were his family had left him because he wasn’t old enough to go out and pick with them. He was just taking a nap in the meantime while everyone else was out picking berries. When they came back to the car, they saw Buck there. He woke up, and he was in the back window of that station wagon, and there was a deer looking in. It was a buck and they were nose to nose at the window, so ever since they started calling him Buck.  

Buck Martin grew up on the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation that’s next to the Menominee Reservation. “We lived in a rural area,” Martin says. “We had a couple of cows. We grew corn and vegetables, potatoes, so we had a garden for the family shelf. We also used to do some occasional hunting. We used to hunt during deer season, and if you got a deer, you could take it into the butcher and he would butcher it up and then we’d freeze it and we’d have meat through the year.”

Martin really liked hunting; he recalls the first buck he shot, a buck which had huge antlers.

“It was 23 inches across from one beam to the other,” Martin says with pride. “And it was like a record, at least for our family and our community. And I was real proud of that. I had the skull cap cut off and mounted on a plaque.”

When he was fairly young his father was the tribal secretary in which he would take down the minutes and, Buck says, “after a while, my parents asked me to start rewrite those minutes in the official log that the tribe had for its official business. And they asked me to do it because my dad’s handwriting wasn’t so good.”

He was directly involved with his tribe’s business because he was transcribing official minutes of their meetings into the official book. Buck’s interest in politics began with that because he was involved in the politics of his tribe — even though he was only writing notes.

Buck was the first one in his family to go to college; he attended UW-Oshkosh where he majored in history and minored in political science. He became involved in issues that were of interest to his my community, topics that he was interested in, and usually those interests dealt with a variety of state programs and how they would impact his community.

Buck moved to Madison after college. “Well, it gets back to my interest in public policy,” he says. “I started out professionally from college as the education director or coordinator for Great Lakes Inter-tribal Council.”

The Great Lakes Inter-tribal Council was an organization made up of the tribes in Wisconsin. Great Lakes initially was the purveyor of a lot of the anti-poverty programs and coordinator of large federal grants. Through this work, Buck established a network of contacts on each of the reservations.

“More often than not, the president or chairman, but then usually their education director, or their health director,” he says. “I had this massive network of people that I knew. I would use that network for a variety of reasons. I began to use that to marshal their collective impact on legislation and agency program policy development. That naturally led me, eventually, to become a lobbyist for my tribe.”

As a lobbyist, he became significantly engaged with leadership in the Wisconsin state legislature and the governor — Republican Tommy Thompson at the time.  

Buck also took part in helping craft a really important bill. “I think it was in the early ’90s,” he recalls. “It was called the Wisconsin Indian Child Welfare Act. What that act did was it took policies that were being driven by state agencies and state departments and gave responsibility for driving those policies to tribal government,” which helped a lot of Native Americans, even to this day.

Today Buck’s experience with lobbying has led his to constantly being aware of and following the rules, following what’s going on and in the world and being prepared to advise tribal people.

Bucks message to everyone is, “Well, if this is their first exposure to tribal government, tribal issues, I hope that it has created an interest in their part to better understand and appreciate that relationship that has been defined by legislation, by court decisions over a rather lengthy period of time. If you haven’t thought about it, think about it. Appreciate it.”

Buck was very active in American Indian issues throughout his career and took part in legislation that helped change tribal government and tribal life. Buck is still very aware of the issues American indians have today and is aiming to better help and be an advocate for his tribe and for others as well.