Educators and Tribes Team Up to Promote Cultural Awareness

by Anne Egan-Waukau, WEAC

Although Wisconsin school districts have been required to teach Wisconsin Native American history and culture since 1991, there have been few resources available to assist educators as they comply with the law.

In April, thanks to the combined efforts of Wisconsin’s tribes, the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the National Education Association, educators across the state will have access to a package of materials that can be used to teach students about Wisconsin’s rich Native American history.

“It’s important for all children to understand the struggles of Native people in Wisconsin,” said Patty Loew, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Life Sciences Communication.

“In this way, we build understanding and appreciation for cultural differences and similarities and we are able to meet future challenges together,” said Loew, who narrates a 30-minute video that is part of the Native American Educational Package.

The package includes a study guide and a collection of video programs and educational materials that highlight Indian heritage and history, interpret tribal traditions and customs, and examine the future of America’s aboriginal people through their respect for land and nature, said Gloria Cobb, deputy director of economic development for the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council (GLITC), which is heading the project.

“We have found that the public is woefully unaware of the strides that have been made and the challenges we face in our Native American communities,” Cobb said. “The Council has come to understand that we must increase awareness of our needs throughout Wisconsin, beginning with schools and helping educators comply with Act 31.”

In fact, the package has been written and produced under the supervision and direction of representatives of each of the state’s 11 tribes to ensure its accuracy and adherence to tribal traditions, she said. The project was developed by the Native American Tourism Organization of Wisconsin (NATOW), an ad hoc committee of GLITC.

It began in 1994 with a goal of providing information and education about the history, culture and recreational opportunities of the 11 sovereign nations within Wisconsin’s borders. The effort started with the publication of a 16-page Native Wisconsin Magazine accompanied by a 30-minute Native Wisconsin video presentation.

Since then, the NATOW project has taken a giant leap forward.

A 38-page, sixth edition of the magazine has been published. And the educational package will include a full-color magazine featuring special segments on each of the 11 tribes, a companion 30-minute video edited especially for students, a DVD tribal guide, a set of 12 posters and a comprehensive teacher’s guide to complement the program.

“The members of NATOW feel there is an urgent need to convince schools to utilize this project that provides information and education about the history and culture of the 11 sovereign nations in Wisconsin,” Cobb said.

“The goal is to show how Native Americans live today, to illustrate how we work to save the Earth with its clean air and water and preservation of forests, and to show how we have positive social and economic impacts on the many communities surrounding our sovereign nations,” she said.

“Through this vehicle, the tribes of Wisconsin have taken a leadership role in promoting our history and culture in the public school system, while attempting to combat prejudice and discrimination,” Cobb said.

In fact, the project is being monitored by Native American tribes across the United States as it approaches the challenge to educate students and the public on the history, tradition and culture of Wisconsin’s Native peoples, Cobb said.

While the tribes have the capability to provide much of the educational materials, the GLITC wanted help from educators to ensure that the materials are available to schools and libraries and, more importantly, that they are presented in such a fashion that they will be used by teachers and accepted by the students, she said.

The opportunity came in 2005 when Wisconsin Education Association Council President Stan Johnson asked the GLITC board how the 98,000-member organization could work with the tribes to ensure that all children were given the opportunity to learn about Wisconsin’s tribes. When Johnson heard about the Native American Educational Package, he not only pledged WEAC’s support, he also garnered the support of the NEA, which has 2.7 million members.

“I want to make sure this partnership works,” Johnson said. “We hope this project will become a model for other states.

“We are all on the same planet and we need to remain connected. Now that you’ve got us, we are here to stay,” he said.

“We will promote this program at our October 2007 Convention in Milwaukee. In fact, there will be a training session that will be led by NATOW and Native American educators,” Johnson said.

NEA President Reg Weaver echoed his support for the project and matched a WEAC grant that has gone toward production of the education package.

“NEA is proud of WEAC and the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council for developing resources for educators that promote the history and culture of Wisconsin’s native peoples and at the same time combat prejudice and discrimination,” Weaver said.

“Where are the curriculums that teach Native American children and all children about this important part of our past and present? A curriculum that engages all students and encourages mutual respect among teachers, students, parents and the community is a critical part of the solution,” he said.

In fact, Weaver said that the NEA has forged a working partnership with the National Indian Education Association.

“No one group or organization can do it by itself,” he said. “But together, we can make a difference and accomplish great things.”

About the author

The Wisconsin School Public Relations Association (WSPRA) is a professional association representing schools, school districts, educational associations, consulting agencies and organizations. WSPRA is a state affiliate of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). 4797 HAYES ROAD | SUITE 103 | MADISON, WI 53704 | PHONE: 608-241-0300 | WSPRA@AWSA.ORG