Native musician, activist Richie Plass dies after battle with cancer

Indian Country Today

Plass traveled across the country as the curator of his highly regarded exhibit, "Bittersweet Winds," a collection of Native stereotypical representations of Native people

At the request of his basketball coach and the athletic director, Richie Plass, 16, reluctantly agreed to play the Indian mascot at his school, Shawano Community High.

Plass, who was Menominee and Stockbridge-Munsee, and had grown up on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin, asked community members about this. They approved of his request. He was a hit with the crowd.

Though he told the coach and athletic director it was a one-time thing, he was asked to perform again. At a school away game he was ridiculed and faced racially-based insults. He vowed never to do it again.

Years later, Plass traveled across the country as the curator and organizer of his highly regarded exhibit, "Bittersweet Winds," a collection of Native symbolism, caricatures, and stereotypical representations of Native people in modern culture. 

His efforts resulted in the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to implement a resolution calling for Wisconsin schools to end Native mascots. Though the resolution failed, Plass brought awareness to a compelling issue.

Eventually, 36 schools in Wisconsin changed their mascots.

Plass was also in the musical group, "The Flying Feather Band." He spoke about his life experience and shared his music on the Native Trailblazers radio program.  

Obituary from Swedeburg Funeral Home below:

Richard Plass, 69, died Nov. 7 surrounded by family after a fight with cancer. Richie was born September 5, 1951, to James & Lillian (White) Plass. 

Richie was an only child, but that changed as the years have gone by. He has so many “brothers & sisters” there are too many to count. Richie graduated from Shawano High School in 1969. 

He went on to get an associate's degree in architecture, but it was music and entertainment that was his passion. He played in bands almost his entire life. From the Legend Hall to the stages of Nashville. He was happiest when he was on stage. 

Then later on in life, he got his call for activism and the Bittersweet Winds Exhibit was started. The fight to stop Native American mascots & imagery in advertisements became his passion. He used the exhibit as a learning tool to educate not only young children but mostly their parents & grandparents. 

He traveled all over the country with his exhibit. He loved what it stood for and more importantly, he loved using it to meet new people. Talking and laughing with people was something he loved and excelled at. And the exhibit not only helped him do that but also educated so many along the way. He never thought he would live to see the day that Washington would change their name, we are so grateful he did. His legacy will live on in that exhibit.

Richie is preceded in death by his parents Junior and Lillian. His brothers in life Orman “Chief” Waukau and Richard “Waubano” Awonohopay.

Richie is survived by his children, Cathie (Ben) Williquette, Cortlee Plass, Christopher Plass and Jason Lipsky. His grandsons, James Plass, Hayden Rogers, Christopher Plass II. The mother of his children Noreen Keshena. His sister in life Rose Smigel. Numerous nieces, nephews, cousins & close personal friends.

A gathering of family and friends will be held for Richie from noon until 4:00 pm on Friday, November 13, 2020, at Swedberg-Wendt Funeral Home in Bonduel. 

Once the pandemic is over we will be having a large celebration of life for Richie, so we can all get together again & be able to play music and tell stories and jokes for hours.

The family would like to thank The Heritage Hospice Center, Dr. Starr’s team, and Dr. Flood for all of your help during this long yet very short battle with cancer.

Plass' services took place at the Swedberg Wendt Funeral Home-Bonduel on Friday, November 13, 2020 at 251 S. Cecil Street in Bonduel, WI 54107.

Once we knew the end was near, Dad said, “when you are in the woods and something shiny/sparkly catches your eye, pick it up & dust it off because it came from me.” Your pain & suffering is over Dad, change those feathers Powakoney, and fly free. 

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