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Fact Sheet for Wisconsin American Indian Studies

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Background and Description

The development of instructional materials and resources about the eleven federally-recognized American Indian nations and tribal communities in Wisconsin have been historically inaccurate and difficult to obtain by the educational community prior to the enactment of Wisconsin Act 31 in 1989. As a result, the societal problems surrounding the 1983 Voigt Decision, which recognized the Chippewa or Ojibwe retained rights to hunt, fish, and gather under the treaties of 1837, 1842 and 1854, demonstrated the serious consequences that result from a lack of accurate and authentic information about tribal histories, cultures, and tribal sovereignty or political status.

In 1989, efforts from both state and tribal leaders led to legislation requiring instruction in the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the eleven federally-recognized American Indian nations and tribal communities in Wisconsin public school districts, which is often referred to as Wisconsin Act 31. The intent of the act was to provide Wisconsin’s students with accurate, academically-appropriate information that could also serve as a positive force to combat misunderstanding and social unrest.

The 1989-1991 Biennial Budget established a program within the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to support school districts’ efforts to provide instruction in Wisconsin American Indian history, culture, and tribal sovereignty. The primary roles of the DPI American Indian Studies Program staff include the provision of training opportunities and technical assistance to school districts; the development and dissemination of resources and materials to ensure best practices and quality instruction; and to serve as liaison to tribal education departments, Wisconsin Indian Education Association (WIEA), Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council (GLITC), and the Special Committee on State-Tribal Relations.

With the dissolution of the American Indian Language and Culture Education Board (AILCEB) in 1997, the DPI American Indian Studies Program staff was assigned many of the board’s former duties. The DPI American Indian Studies Program is also the primary state contact for issues related to the education of American Indian students in Wisconsin. Program staff currently consists of one full-time education consultant and one part-time office operations associate.

Program Activities and Services  

The DPI American Indian Studies Program staff provides information, training, and technical assistance to school districts and other educational entities in a variety of ways. The DPI American Indian Studies Program staff coordinates the development of new instructional resources and develops and disseminates a bibliography series and resources to keep educators informed about existing materials. Program staff also offer a variety of local and regional training workshops and in-service programs, as well as an annual Wisconsin American Indian Studies Summer Institute to provide professional development opportunities in teaching and learning around American Indian Studies. 

Each year, the American Indian Studies Consultant also presents at a number of local, regional, and statewide trainings, workshops, and conferences. These presentations cover topics related to American Indian student education, including Wisconsin Act 31, the use of data to improve instruction, and updates regarding DPI and federal initiatives. Where possible, the American Indian Studies Program staff works to establish collaborate relationships with each of the eleven federally-recognized American Indian nations and tribal communities, school districts, Cooperative Educational Service Agencies (CESAs), colleges, and universities. These relationships enable the staff to reach and serve constituencies more effectively.

Expected Impact and Outcomes  

The program's activities and goals are to build teachers' capacity to serve students and support efforts to address existing stereotypes, and historical omissions and inaccuracies concerning American Indian people and communities. Beginning at the elementary school level and continuing through high school, this instruction will continue to present teaching and learning about the eleven federally-recognized American Indian nations and tribal communities to all Wisconsin students, helping them to better understand their neighbors in the state. 

In integrating or infusing content around American Indian Studies, Wisconsin school districts will help their students to think critically and analytically about issues relating to Wisconsin American Indian nations and tribal communities. In this effort, this instruction will also address specific areas in the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards for Social Studies and Disciplinary Literacy.

The expected outcome is that all Wisconsin students will become more informed about the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the eleven federally-recognized American Indian nations and tribal communities in the state. Through the promotion of inclusive education, students in Wisconsin school districts will learn about, experience, understand, and appreciate another culture, an essential and important lesson required to ensure Wisconsin students become successful, contributing members of our changing, diverse, and global communities.

For questions about this information, contact David O'Connor (608) 267-2283