UW-Madison and Wisconsin Native Nations partner on environmental and educational initiatives

An update on the Native Nations_UW Working Group strategic plan

December 20, 2018

The past year has been transformative for the Native Nations_UW (NN_UW) Working Group, who has been collaborating with Native Nations across Wisconsin on health, environmental conservation, and educational opportunities.  Now in its second year, the program, which launched in May 2016 thanks to support from the Provosts of UW–Madison, University of Wisconsin Colleges, and the University of Wisconsin Extension, the NN_UW Working Group, was developed to facilitate more respectful and reciprocal partnerships with Wisconsin’s Native Nations. Led by co-chair Jessie Conaway, a faculty associate for Native Nations Partnerships at the Nelson Institute, the NN_UW Working Group spent year one developing a Strategic Plan with the Tribes that outlines the goals for this initiative. After a great deal of preparation and collaboration with cross-campus partners and Native Nations throughout Wisconsin, 2018 was a big year for the program, particularly in terms of the environmental and educational partnerships.

At the heart of this was the launch of the Culture Keepers/Elders-in-Residence Program, which brought prominent social worker, former assistant secretary of Indian affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Menominee Tribal member Ada Deer to campus for a week. Hosted by the American Indian Studies Program, Deer shared a meal with students and spent the week engaging in cultural education and programming. This program was supported in part by generous donations through The Culture Keepers/Elders-in-Residence Crowdfunding campaign that took place in summer 2018 and raised over $3,500. The Culture Keepers/Elders-in-Residence Program has asked all the Native Nations in Wisconsin to work with UW to invite elders from their communities. Goals of the program are to provide students and UW personnel with access to crucial cultural education opportunities, while improving campus climate for Native students.

"In our ongoing work with the Tribes in Wisconsin, we have learned that cultural exchange and reciprocity are needed for education and support of Native students on campus,” Conaway said of the program. “This program is a culturally responsive way to address these needs, as well as make our NN_UW work long-lasting and well-aligned with the current priorities of partnering Tribes."

In addition to the Keepers/Elders Program, the working group has also been developing curriculum that includes collaborations with Tribes throughout Wisconsin. One such course was the spring 2018 capstone, Environmental Conservation with the Menominee Nation. Taught by Conaway, the course encouraged students to learn, first-hand, about indigenous environmental philosophy and practice. Students worked directly with Tribal professionals and leaders on projects that included ecology, natural resource management, mapping, and education.

As a part of relationship building deliverables in the NN_UW Strategic Plan, the Nations_UW (NN_UW) Working Group and the UW-Madison campus held a professional development opportunity for cultural education in fall 2018. The Cultural Responsiveness Workshop, held as part of Native November, was developed to educate UW–Madison faculty, staff and administrators about working more effectively with Native Nations and Native students. Working together with professor of law, Director of the Great Lakes Indian Law Center, and Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribal member, Richard Monette, as well as UW Senior Academic Librarian-Emerita and Ho-Chunk Nation Tribal member, Janice Rice, Conaway facilitated the event, utilizing tools she learned in the state of Washington through a professional development grant from the UW-Madison College of Letters and Science. Elder Gerald Cleveland and District 2 legislator Carly Lincoln did the workshop welcome, while Attorney General Amanda WhiteEagle spoke on Tribal Sovereignty. Former President of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Jerilyn Decoteau, spoke on historic trauma.

Tribal colleges and natural resource departments, as well as UW—Madison students also had an opportunity to engage in cultural education through the 2018 Nelson Institute Earth Day event, Reciprocity & Respect: Working with Tribes for Community-based Conservation. During the event, Tribal natural resource professionals and educators shared their projects and effective practices for engaging in research, internships and cross-cultural exchanges.     

With so many educational initiatives in progress and more on the horizon, the NN_UW has been actively recruiting for three new faculty positions that will aid in moving this initiative forward.  The new positions, through the School of Nursing, School of Human Ecology, and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies are made possible thanks to the campus-wide, UW–Madison cluster hire program, which was launched in 1998 as a partnership between the university, state and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) to provide departments with the initial support needed to build faculty teams that can address critical interdisciplinary research. Successful candidates hired as a part of this cluster hire will complement the work of cross-campus groups while furthering the goals set forth by the NN_UW Working Group. The successful candidates will start in August 2019 and will be working to create meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships with tribal communities and sovereign Native Nations through interdisciplinary research and outreach.

While 2018 was an important year for the NN_UW Working Group, new and exciting initiatives are on the horizon. In particular, UW–Madison has been working with the Ho-Chunk Nation to develop the language for a heritage marker that will highlight the history of the campus as ancestral homeland of the Ho-Chunk Nation. While plans are still in the works, the sign has been prepared and will be placed on Bascom Hill during a ceremony within the next year.

“This is critical work,” said Conaway. “It’s fun, but it’s also powerful.”  

Individuals interested in supporting the  Native Nations_UW Working Group and it’s initiatives are encouraged to donate to the Native Nations Partnership Fund, which provides broad support for all activities related to the NN_UW-Madison partnership, including, but not limited to, research, education, community outreach, elder/faculty/student recruitment, retention, and morale.