By Terence Falk | Wisconsin Examiner

The Wisconsin Indian Education Society hosted a celebration of the state’s commitment to Native American education under Act 31 on Thursday, August 18 at Keshena’s Menominee Casino Resort, attended by Native people from all over Wisconsin.

Act 31 is a remarkable law. The law requires primary and secondary public schools to teach students about her American history, culture, and treaty rights as a Wisconsin native. The law was a byproduct of protests and disputes between White Fishermen and Native American spearfishers in the late 1980s. White protesters confronted Indians with racist shouts and signs at public boat landings in the late 1980s. But the animosity goes much deeper than just fishing.

Legislators were convinced by both Indians and others that enacting laws to protect the treaty rights of Native Americans was not enough. Education was the key. Therefore, in 1989, Act 31 was enacted and signed into law by the government at the time. Tommy Thompson.

Act 31 Struggle

The legal story is well documented in JP Leary’s 2018 book. History of Act 31Leary is an associate professor at UW-Green Bay and was a consultant in Native American Studies for the Wisconsin Department of Education (DPI) from 1990-2011.

According to Leary, the law had teeth. DPI will send staff to inspect at least 10% of all school districts for compliance with the curriculum and Act 31. The goal was to keep in touch with all school districts over the years.

However, within three years, “the initial staffing of two full-time educational consultants, one educational specialist, and one program assistant was reduced to one educational consultant and one shared program assistant.” The inspection team is gone. School curriculum reviews are gone.

Today, DPI’s Native American Studies Program is left to just one person, David O’Connor. Leary appreciates the quality of materials O’Connor makes available at the school and the workshops he conducts throughout Wisconsin. But I doubt how many school districts are using DPI materials or trying to meet their mandates.

The National Indian Education Association (NIEA), headquartered in Washington, DC, is headed by Jason Dropik, principal of the Indian Community Schools in Franklin, just south of Milwaukee.

He is pessimistic that even half of Wisconsin’s school districts are enforcing Act 31. Just considering the lack of books and materials about Native Americans in most Wisconsin schools makes that clear, says Dropik.

Leary attributes most of the loss in Native American research to the promotion of the basic skill of not leaving children behind under the Bush administration. But even before that, Leary points out, Wisconsin’s social studies exam questions were more focused on reading comprehension than content-based. There was no one to check the

Growing up as an Indian in Milwaukee

Dropik reflects on his own experience growing up in Milwaukee. His roots trace back to the Bad River tribe near Lake Superior, but his family came to the city two generations before him in search of work and a better life.

He remembers his mother stressing that he “must fit in” with his son. It was something his mother had to do when he was attending school in Milwaukee. Dropik became more sensitive to these issues when he became a teacher and taught in public schools in Milwaukee, primarily Fritsche Middle School.

Dropik says teachers make many mistakes when trying to teach students a Native American curriculum. Sometimes they would bring a lone Indian student to the scene and ask that student to become an “expert” in all Native American matters, well beyond their knowledge and understanding.

Dropik says it’s a myth that there are few Indian students in urban school settings. Milwaukee lists less than 0.5% of his students as Native American, but other research shows that these students are “significantly underreported.”

Underreporting is often associated with lack of self-reporting, Leary says. may come. May be counted as Hispanic, not Indian. Dropik believes Native American students could be several times higher than the official number. About 45% of Wisconsin’s Native Americans live in metropolitan areas.

minorities under attack

Black students are forced to cut their dreadlocks and remove hair beads to attend sporting events. Native American students face similar discrimination against boys with braided hair. In 2021 she passed a resolution supporting the protection of expressions of cultural identity, such as wearing braids and eagle feathers on graduation caps.

Leary credits then-state superintendent of schools Tony Evers for directing school districts to allow such cultural expressions. However, Native American students are still bullied by other students, especially in schools where little is taught about Native American identity.

Many school districts tell teachers not to dwell on the history of slavery and not to teach critical racial theories. Similar orders are given for forced removal from tribal lands and acts of genocide against Native American villages.

In 2021, the NIEA again decided to reject “any law or action that restricts the teaching of the complete and accurate history of the United States, particularly as it relates to Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.” According to the resolution, the NIEA “will take immediate action with state, federal, and Native American leaders to ensure that educators are taught a complete and accurate history of the United States, particularly as it relates to Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.” wake up,” he said. , without threat or punishment. ”

Theoretically, the Wisconsin Board of Education cannot unilaterally tell teachers to stop teaching Native American studies because of existing state law, but some school districts have stopped trying. may not be possible.

Dropik is in the process of obtaining a superintendent license and is in dialogue with other future superintendents in the state. “School board meetings have become very political, trying to eliminate multiple perspectives even though they are protected by state law,” he says.

carrots or sticks

Jim Pete, president of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association, isn’t sure if the Aug. 18 event should be called a “celebration of Act 31,” rather than simply a celebration of the 30th anniversary of enactment of the law. A lot has been put on hold in recent years because of the coronavirus, but he said, “We’re starting to get back to that. I admit

Dropik understands the sentiment, but also sees a silver lining. He cites students who graduate from community school in eighth grade and attend traditional public schools. Often they face a lack of understanding about the problems of their Native Americans. Their school may disapprove of a view of history that does not celebrate Christopher Columbus as the hero who “discovered” America. Those former students sometimes come back to the Indian Community School for help.

Dropik said the NIEA has reached out to local public schools, and in many cases these schools have accepted the group’s proposals. “They are more aggressive than he was 20 years ago.”

Leary says he doesn’t want his book on Act 31 to be all doom and gloom. “I wanted to present it as a story of victory. So many people who were at the forefront of enacting that policy became disillusioned with its implementation. And it was the most specific curriculum requirement Wisconsin had ever adopted. , I wanted to get back to talking about their efforts.”

He believes that less than half of Wisconsin’s school districts are doing what the law requires, but he believes more school districts would be willing to do what is needed if given the resources to do the work. During the pandemic, “schools are struggling to give out all kinds of instructions.” “My approach has always been centered around capacity building.”

In 2020, the Wisconsin State Board of Education (WASB) attempted to adopt a resolution calling for the elimination of all Indian mascots from schools. Resolution has dropped significantly.

School districts with Indian mascots have been vocal about not telling other school boards what to do. Leary has heard it all. “Local Control” is just one step away from Southern states exercising “state rights” to maintain racism.

A year later, WASB members in favor of Native American rights took a more flexible approach.

They promoted and adopted a resolution calling for additional funding to enhance student performance under the mandate of Act 31 (3.205). These are the kinds of actions that are likely to get results along the lines that Leary is proposing.

In April, the Madison School District held a ceremony with the Ho-Chunk tribe to recognize the school on their original land. “Government-sanctioned institutions are responsible for much of the trauma of Indigenous families, which is why MMSD is proud to lead this effort today to heal the wounds of the past,” said the former public institution. School Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor said who currently works at MMSD.

The following statement is read at the beginning of each Milwaukee School Board meeting: of freshwater lake. At this location, the Milwaukee, Menominee, and Kinikkinic rivers meet, and people from the sovereign states of Wisconsin’s Menominee, Ojibwe, Ho-Chunk, Oneida, and Mohicans survive to this day. ”

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