Interview with Kevin McKiernan on tape recorded at the Alexian Novitiate on January 22, 1975. McKiernan details what transpired in creating recording of interview and getting tape out of Gresham.
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The tape you're going to be listening to in just a few minutes was recorded on January 22nd inside the Alexian Brothers. Novitiate near Gresham, Wisconsin. Only twice before had reporters been allowed inside the novitiate each time a company by the commander of the National Guard tape was recorded on the 22nd by Kevin McKiernan who is with us in the Studio's Now Kevin. How in the world did you get them to talk? How did you get inside when nobody else was allowed in I wanted to go in earlier. In fact, I asked to be part of a press pool that went in on the second of the two occasions. The Press pool representative told me that I was a rookie rookie reporter and I was not seasoned and could not go inside. And so the rest of the press pool shared the tape made inside with me when they came out they were only in for a short time a half an hour 45 minutes.A formal prepared statement was red and some very stock answers and given back in back and forth the reporters were in so that they were very frightened having been inside that the accidental discharge of a shotgun during the time that they were working fine to this one room, or the Press Conference was held was a very frightening and shocking experience to them. I did want to go in and talk with some Indian people in the area and ask them to find out. What was the feeling of the Menominee Warrior Society inside the novitiate? And I would wait on the outside and and then there would be some answer perhaps as to whether or not I'd be welcome. It's kind of clear to understand why they National Guard wouldn't want reporters traipsing back and forth between the the compound in the outside, but why didn't the Indians want people reporters in there to get their story out? I think at first they did but then a very intense hatred of the media a rose inside the monastery Indian people felt that their position inside the building their position having taken over that novitiate which incidentally was vacated by the Alexian Brothers in 1968 in the NFL to their position in the news media was being misrepresented. They said for example that that prepared statement given at the second of the two news conferences was just hacked to Pieces by the news media that only the last paragraph and part of it went out over Television over radio perhaps more of it was carried in the newspapers and they felt that that was taken out of context and these statement relaying conveying the feelings that they had for being inside that building. They felt that excerpting and taking things out of context did not do justice to those feelings. I think the difficult thing in this story is that the stakes are so high and the tensions have been escalated to such a point that many people believe that they'll never come out of that building alive. And so with a life-or-death situation at least as they view it. Distorted news coverage as they view it as something which has made them very very angry. And so after the second press conference, they made a determination that never again would they allow reporters inside now this could change but at this point that's where it stands. So when I asked if I could come in that is through someone who was going inside sneaking in the back door. I waited for a couple of days and no word came and then a group of Indians was going in on a particular night and I knew a few of the people involved and they asked me if I would come with them and I said that I had kind of mixed feelings about it. I didn't want to go somewhere where I wasn't welcome. And I seesaw back and forth and finally decided to go in. About halfway in trucking in through the woods between National Guard checkpoints and roving Patrols. A runner coming out from the Abbey met our group and said that people inside had just voted at a meeting. And the vote was no I was not welcome to come in while there I was in a foot and a half of snow and I think the temperature is about 13 below zero. And I didn't know what to do and a few of the other people said well, it's too late now you might as well go in. He probably didn't know your way out. Anyway, I certainly didn't. So I and I went and the reception was. Something less than than gracious when I first entered the monastery what happened to you when you first walked in what kind of response was there from the people inside? Well first we walked into the kitchen which is an industrial kitchen really kitchen like in a big restaurant or of course, in this case. It was a novitiate until the people who are novices the what you might call recruits. We're not coming into the Alexian order in 1968. And finally the building was was abandoned. There was a caretaker there. But the building was vacated for all practical purposes. It's an enormous building. I think more than 64 rooms and it's really like a fortress all are in their all connected interconnected, but they they have these giant to iron and metal fire door is the concealed one section off from another so it's a very formidable building and we first came into the kitchen. I will everyone sat down to eat. It was a very hard to run in there and everyone was was tired and hungry and immediately someone came up to me and said, You come with me and I was taken to one of the leaders one of the Menominee Warrior Society spokesman and his first question was what do you want of us? And I said well I'd like to know why 40 guys would throw away their futures. And his response was do you think that we've thrown away our future? And I said, I don't know. I'm here to find out. And he said the problem with your being here is that you will be a divisive Factor because of the color of your skin many of my people hate the white man. The white man is oppressed are people so much that no matter what kind of a person you are. It will be very difficult for you and will be difficult for our people. And so you're going to have to leave. And I tried to to talk a little bit more about what I was interested in and I could sense a great amount of tension. The man told me that I was that I was brainwashed that there was no way for me to understand where his people were coming from that I didn't understand his language that white people say hello and that in the Menominee language, there is another expression which conveys something which is much warmer and there's no way really to translated as hello and you talked about the the things which have been lost the language culture the identity. And you talked about the Distortion in the news? Well, how did you win him over? How did you win the group over then? Well, I don't know that I want anyone over. I was taken under those conditions to to another room and someone then came in with four or five other people and they sat down and I was allowed to do a tape under conditions, which were not really ideal and people were very very suspicious of me. And I completed the tape and in fact, I completed to tapes and then they were then taken from me. And as I later found out parts were erased were deleted on the tape was censored. But the parts that were censored were those which spoke or went to related to issues of security around the monastery, which they felt might be compromised that it was decided that everyone inside. The building would have to listen to the tape to approve of it that no one person could make the decision as to whether or not it could go out. And the responses were really amazing. I'll one person said I don't think that tape should be released. I don't think it should go out because it tells it like it is. And I said, well, isn't that what should happen you say that things haven't been represented. Here is something which is you're saying tells it like it is and he said I don't want the white man on the outside to understand us to have those feelings from the heart because then he will be able to manipulate us. all the more better I wanted to leave and of course there that the night passed in the next day and I was awake almost the entire. And then and that evening. I was supposed to leave the next evening and as it turned out I didn't leave until early the next morning. Although we we were awake all the time and that evening a general assembly meeting was held with all the people there and they were very very intense feelings. And then there was one other white man inside the building and he and I were both to be let out that evening. And I didn't know what would happen. I knew that one news men had tried to come in there and that his equipment was confiscated by whom by the Indians and that he was turned over for a rest of the National Guard has a violator of the perimeter and I didn't know whether this would be the case or what would happen and I've been kept really in the dark all day and was somewhat fearful. I don't know what this meeting was held and I was asked to leave the room along with the other white person. Can we were taking into the chapel and then a very strange thing happened? the One of the spokesman. In fact, the spokesman was on this tape for the most part and Mel Chevalier jr. Came in and he said people have decided that you should stay. I said I don't understand that and then apparently told me and then probably would have happened was it a number of people had luck? Luckily for me? I guess had just come in that night and people who knew me and people who apparently you don't spoke up and said that I was not a policeman. I was not an Informer that I was in fact a news person and that in their opinion my reporting inventive jective and I was asked to stay and it was a the emotional flip flop was extreme. You were surprised him by the change of heart. It was a very beautiful thing that happened all the boys. I said it shook me up. When people ask me to stay. There was a pipe ceremony with an old man conducting it. And the sacred peace pipe was lead and it was passed around. And I was asked to join it up and smoke with everyone and it went around a large Circle in the middle of the dining room floor in the division. When the pipe ceremony was concluded. Everyone stood up and filed by me. And shook my hand. Call me brother and ask me to stay. those who had been very mean to me and very hostile to me. We're among those with the warmest greetings and the strongest apologies. And it was a very moving experience. How do you feel about the whole thing now sitting here in a radio studio in st. Paul knowing that that kind of thing is going on 400 miles away. This doesn't seem real and that did. I guess in life or death situations, even if even if they're trumped-up in observers minds, they're often real and probably always real in the minds of those who are experiencing them. And it's the kind of situation where you don't watch the clock the amazing experience. What insurance is were you able to give the people on the inside that the story you would prevent would not be hacked up would not be a distortion of their views as they felt they should be expressed will first of all, it was demanded of me as a condition precedent to doing any interview. That everything that was said would be broadcast. And so I had a tape in the at the end one tape. I should mention was not allowed out at all. But I had to take one and one other tape that was about 80 minutes at the end of it all and I was told it up that entire tape would have to be played and I said I cannot assure you that that will happen because you know commercial radio stations play of 10 seconds or 50 seconds or a very short time on a story the public radio stations take more time with it, but I don't think that in Prime Time news broadcast that 80 minutes would be acceptable. They wanted the story it since I was the only one who was going to carry it out. They wanted the story to be to receive as much exposure is possible. They felt it the mind of the American people was being programmed. For an eventual taking of the building by force that they would be gassed and that it would be a room-to-room fighting throughout the building and that everyone would be killed. And so then they thought that the news media played a part in that programming by partially by slicing up things and putting this many many people said to me what what the reporters do as they promise you one thing and they give you a power handshake and then they go out and maybe even if they're good guys their editors cut it up. So if you want to play this you have to play 80 minutes. Without stopping without cutting and I said, I don't think I can make that insurance. So I made a counter-offer I said I will talk to the people at national public radio and I think that I can assure you that assuming they accept we will put on five five minutes segments. on 5 consecutive days and these will be excerpts from the overall tape which are representative. Amount of time passed and they accepted that counter offer along with the understanding that the entire tape would be played on Minnesota Public Radio internet in its entirety without cutting. The only thing that you have cut in this tape are the points where they have said, please delete the following and you hear a blank space and some tape recorder clicking noises and things like that is like that there are some cosmetica cuts and that sort of thing where Some doors are slamming and people are in the room or something like that, but substance of what people said. Melvin Chevalier Junior from Menominee Warrior Society spokesman and some people who wish not to be identified that substance is there.