Students who enter Verona Area High School near the performing arts wing are now greeted by a beautiful and meaningful display of 12 flags. Those flags represent the 12 registered tribal nations recognized in Wisconsin. While this visual representation is meant to communicate to all who enter, the idea started off with one person: School Counselor Lesley Morrison. We wondered: How did she do it? What does she hope students and the community get from seeing the flags? How can other schools in Wisconsin follow suit? Here are her responses.
ConnectEd: How did you come about the idea to do this?
Lesley Morrison: I have been wanting to do something to recognize and celebrate the Indigenous histories and cultures of Wisconsin since I moved to the Madison area eight years ago. I started talking to one of our former associate principals, Jorge Avalos, about doing this a year and half ago. I noticed that many of our other students and families' cultures were being recognized and celebrated but there was nothing for our Native American students and families, coupled with the fact that we are on Indigenous land.
ConnectEd: What were your first steps?
Lesley Morrison: My first step was to go to administration with my idea and have it approved. I then started to figure out what costs may be involved to acquire all 12 Tribal Nation flags. I started calling and emailing the tribal offices to find out who I would need to talk to and what the process would be in getting a flag to be represented at our school district.
Here is the list of tribal nations of Wisconsin represented:
- Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
- Brothertown Indian Nation
- Forest County Potawatomi
- Ho-Chunk Nation
- Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
- Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
- Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin
- Oneida Nation
- Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
- Sokaogon Chippewa Community
- St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin
- Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians
ConnectEd: Where did you find support?
Lesley Morrison: David O’Connor, American Indian Education consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, was a big support and resource for me. He provided me with contacts and other resources that I was able to use for this project.
Janice Rice, who is an elder from the Ho Chunk Nation also shared her wisdom and knowledge and helped me do the presentation to the Verona Area School District.
I also had the support of the administration and my colleagues here at the Verona Area School District.
ConnectEd: What advice would you give to other school staff in Wisconsin who would like to try to do something like this?
Lesley Morrison: Have a plan in place. I started with figuring out who to contact and if there were any costs involved. I secured funding if it was needed.
Do your research. Learn about Indigenous culture and the proper way to ask for things. Make sure you ask permission to hang the flag from each Tribal Nation, let them know the purpose of your project and why you are doing this. Also where the flag will be displayed.
When you have your presentation of the flags to your school and community, find out who you should invite. Perhaps an elder or someone who can be a spokesperson.
ConnectEd: What was personally meaningful to you about doing this?
Lesley Morrison: I grew up on the Lac du Flambeau Reservation and then worked at the Lac du Flambeau Grade School for almost 20 years before I moved here to the Madison area. I grew up surrounded by the Ojibwe language and culture and it became a part of me. Moving away from my home was a very difficult decision for me, but it was something I needed to do. There was such a stark contrast between being here and being in Lac du Flambeau, WI. I wanted to share what I learned with others.
ConnectEd wishes to thank Lesley Morrison, Guidance Counselor, Verona Area High School, and David O'Connor, American Indian Education Consultant at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.