Wisconsin schools failing to meet state mandate on Native American education
The Indian Educational Association of Wisconsin threw a party of the state’s commitment to Native American education under Law 31 on Thursday, August 18 at the Menominee Casino Resort in Keshena, with Natives from across Wisconsin in attendance.
Bill 31 is a remarkable piece of legislation. The law requires public elementary and secondary schools to teach students about the history, culture, and treaty rights of Native Americans in Wisconsin. The legislation was a consequence of protests and conflicts between white fishermen and Native American spearfishers in the late 1980s. white protesters confronted Indians with racist shouting and placards at public landings in the late 1980s. But the animosity went far beyond just fishing.
Legislators were convinced by both Indians and others that simply enacting laws to protect treaty rights for Native Americans was not enough. Education was the key. Thus, in 1989, Law 31 was enacted and promulgated by the then government. Tommy Thompson.
Act 31 struggles
The history of the law is well documented by JP Leary in his 2018 book, The story of act 31. Leary is an associate professor at UW-Green Bay and was a consultant in Native American studies at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) from 1990 to 2011.
The law had teeth, according to Leary. The DPI would send officials to inspect at least 10% of all school districts to review curriculum and compliance with Bill 31. The intention was to contact all school districts within a few years.
But within three years, writes Leary, “The initial staffing allocation for two full-time education consultants, an education specialist and a program assistant had fallen to one shared education consultant and program assistant. No more inspection teams; finished the revisions of the school programs.
Today, the DPI Native American Studies program has only one person: David O’Connor. Leary gives O’Connor high marks for the quality of the materials he makes available to the schools and workshops he leads throughout Wisconsin. But how many school districts are using DPI material or trying to follow mandates is in question.
The National Indian Education Association (NIEA) is headquartered in Washington, DC, but its president is Jason Dropik, principal of the Indian Community School in Franklin, just south of Milwaukee.
It’s pessimistic that even half of Wisconsin’s school districts are implementing Bill 31. Just looking at the lack of Native American books and materials in most Wisconsin schools is telling, Dropik says.
Leary attributes most of the loss of Native American studies to the push for basic skills with No Child Left Behind under the Bush administration. But even before that, Leary points out that the Wisconsin Social Studies Test questions were more focused on reading comprehension than content-based. No one checked to see if the students were learning anything about the tribes of Wisconsin.
Growing up Indian in Milwaukee
Dropik reflects on his own experience growing up in Milwaukee. His roots can be traced to the Bad River Tribe near Lake Superior, but his family arrived in town two generations ago in search of work and a better life.
He remembers that his mother had insisted to her son: “You have to try to blend in”, not to insist too much on his Indian heritage. It was something his mother had to do when she went to school in Milwaukee. Dropik became more sensitive to these issues when he became a teacher and taught in public schools in Milwaukee, primarily at Fritsche Middle School.
Dropik says that even when teachers try to teach students the Native American curriculum, they make a lot of mistakes. Sometimes they put the only Indian student on the spot asking that student to become the “expert” on all Native American issues, far beyond their knowledge and understanding.
Dropik says it is a myth that there are few Indian students in urban schools. While Milwaukee lists less than half a percent of students as Native American, other studies show that these students are “grossly underappreciated”.
Leary says under-reporting is often linked to a lack of self-reporting. School may come from more blended families with one parent identifying as Indian and another parent Latino. They might be counted as Hispanic rather than Indian. Dropik thinks there could be several times more Native American students than the official count. About 45% of Native Americans in Wisconsin live in metropolitan areas.
Minorities under attack
Black students were forced to cut dreadlocks or remove hair beads in order to participate in sporting events. Native American students faced similar discrimination targeting boys with braided hair. In 2021, the WIEA passed a resolution supporting the protection of expressions of cultural identity such as the wearing of braid or eagle feathers on graduation caps.
Leary credits then-public school superintendent Tony Evers for asking school districts to allow such cultural expressions. But 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, not to teach critical race theory. Similar mandates are given regarding forced eviction from tribal lands and even acts of genocide against Native American villages.
Again in 2021, the NIEA decided to reject “any legislation or action that limits the teaching of the full and accurate history of the United States, especially as it relates to American Indians, Native Americans Alaska and Native Hawaiians”. The resolutions state that the NIEA will “take immediate action with state, federal, and Native leaders to ensure that educators are able to teach a complete and accurate history of the United States, particularly as it relates to pertaining to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians, without threat or punishment.
In theory, no school board in Wisconsin can unilaterally tell a teacher to stop teaching Native American studies because of current state laws, but that might not stop some districts from trying.
Dropik is finishing up his superintendent’s license and has had a dialogue with other potential superintendents in the state. “School board meetings have become so political and try to eliminate multiple perspectives, even though they are protected by state law,” Dropik says.
carrot or stick
Jim Pete, president of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association, isn’t sure the Aug. 18 event should be called “Celebrating Act 31” instead of just acknowledging the act’s 30th anniversary. So much has been put on hold for the past two years due to COVID, he says, “We’re starting to get back into it.” He acknowledges that there has been some backsliding over the years in enforcement.
Dropik understands the sentiment, but also sees signs of hope. He refers to students who leave his community school after eighth grade and attend traditional public schools. Often they are faced with a misunderstanding of Native American issues. Their schools may not recognize a view of history that does not celebrate Christopher Columbus as a hero for “discovering” America. These former students sometimes come back to the Indian Community School and ask for help.
Dropik often says that NIEA has reached out to local public schools, and more often than not, these schools are receptive to suggestions from the group. “More willing than they were 20 years ago.”
Leary says he didn’t want his Act 31 book to be a disaster. “I wanted to show it as a story of victory. So many people who were even on the front line to enact this policy have become so disillusioned with its implementation. And I wanted to go back to the story of their efforts – the most specific program requirement the state of Wisconsin has ever adopted.
While he thinks less than half of Wisconsin school districts are following the law’s mandates, he also thinks many more would be willing to do what needs to be done if they simply had the resources to do the job. work. “In schools, we struggle to give instructions of any kind” during the pandemic. . “My approach has always been focused on capacity building. »
In 2020, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) tried to adopt a resolution calling for the removal of all Indian mascots from schools. The resolution has dropped by a wide margin.
School districts with Indian mascots have said forcefully that other school boards shouldn’t tell them what to do. “Local control” was their battle cry. Leary has heard it all before. “Local control” is only a step away from southern states invoking “states’ rights” to maintain racial segregation.
A year later, WASB members supporting Native American rights took a softer approach.
They pushed and adopted a resolution calling for additional funding to increase student skills under the mandates of Law 31 (3.205). These are the types of actions most likely to achieve results in the sense suggested by Leary.
In April, the Madison School District held a ceremony the Ho-Chunk Nation recognizing that its schools are located on lands originally inhabited by the Ho-Chunk people. “Government-sanctioned institutions are responsible for much of the trauma experienced by First Nations families, and that’s why MMSD is proud to lead this effort to heal the wounds of the past, starting today. “said former public schools superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor, who now works for MMSD.
At the beginning of each Milwaukee School Board full meeting, the following statement is read: “We recognize that Milwaukee is located on the traditional homeland of Menominee, Potawatomi, and Ho-Chunk along the southwest shores of Lake Michigan, which is part of the largest network in North America. freshwater lakes. At this site, the Milwaukee, Menominee, and Kinnickinnic rivers meet, and people from the sovereign Menominee, Ojibwe, Ho-Chunk, Oneida, and Mohican nations of Wisconsin remain present to this day.
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