Bawaajigekwe Andrea Boulley, a 2020 Wisconsin Teacher of the year, knew early on that her calling was to be a teacher. Boulley has been a special education teacher at Ashland Middle School for the last five years and has taught for 13 years, with experience in special education, general education, elementary, middle, and high school in public, tribal, private, and charter schools. All of her teaching experiences have been in schools with high Indigenous student populations, specifically of the Ojibwe tribe.
As an Indigenous woman, her roles and responsibilities as an educator are lived through infusing American Indian studies throughout the school year in curriculum or educational experiences:
Today, I practice living in my truth, and so my worldview and perception of land, language, culture, and relationships are embedded into everything I touch. I am guided, grounded, and supported by my values as an Anishinaabekwe (Anishinaabe woman), which are the 7 Grandfather Teachings: love, respect, wisdom, humility, honesty, courage, truth. Along with the seven values, I operate through the lens of the ‘4Rs’: respect, reciprocity, relationship, and responsibility.
Boulley shared the 4Rs with her grade-level team, and they agreed to use them as a structure for team norms and to focus the way they operate. She also submitted the 7 Grandfather Teachings during a district-wide vision, mission, and values meeting to help shape the district’s focus and priorities as a place of learning.
She describes specific projects and programming that build community partnerships while learning from Indigenous knowledge bearers, like baaga’adowewin/lacrosse, Native American Club, and co-planning with colleagues for an annual geography unit on Ojibwe culture which, “engage with ways of knowing that have guided life for a very, very long time in this place we now call Ashland.”
For teachers working to more authentically infuse American Indian history, languages, cultures, tribal sovereignty, or current events, Boulley says:
One thing I want educators to know is that we do not need to be experts on Indigenous culture, language, etc. nor should we strive to learn everything there is to know about Native people because that is not aligned with the seven values. It is also unrealistic. It is more important to think of ourselves as Knowledge Seekers rather than experts and understand that there are over 500 Indigenous tribes, each with specific ways of being, knowing, and doing.
Instead of feeling like educators should know everything, Boulley hopes for educators to center humanity and relational learning as the core of Act 31 and diversity, equity, and inclusion work. “Let us seek to understand the places we live and work: the people who live here and the history of those who have lived here before us, those who are yet to arrive, the students and families we serve in school,” Boulley says.
Along with foundational values and teachings as an Anishinaabe person, Boulley acknowledges her grandmothers, grandfathers, aunties, and uncles for teaching her many lessons about the value and purpose in every experience and how every being has unique gifts and knowledge to contribute. “This 100% impacts the way I approach my profession, plan lessons, write IEPs, and interact with students, families, and colleagues.”
Boulley remains honored to teach in schools in Northern Wisconsin with large populations of students who are Ojibwe. She has committed to learning more by entering an Indigenous Education doctoral program at UW-Green Bay, with hopes of someday creating or participating in a school leadership team that centers the 4Rs and the 7 Grandfather Teachings, which are universal values that benefit everyone.