Students learn about Native American culture, Act 31

September 8, 2017
Students at fish hatchery
Students at Log House
graduation ceremony

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – Six University of Wisconsin-Platteville students recently had an opportunity to gain a more in-depth understanding of Native American culture and Act 31, including its impact on education, at the 21st American Indian Summer Institute in Crandon, Wisconsin.

The institute was organized by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, led by David O’Connor, a consultant for DPI’s American Indian Studies Program. Dr. Edina Haslauer, assistant professor in the School of Education at UW-Platteville, led the trip.

The goal of the week-long conference was to teach professionals in the field of education about Act 31, a legislation that requires schools to educate students about the history, culture and tribal sovereignty of the 11 federally recognized American Indian tribes in Wisconsin. Act 31 also requires teacher education programs to make future practitioners knowledgeable about the Wisconsin tribes. The history of the legislation goes back to the 1980s spear fishing controversies in the northern part of Wisconsin, and despite the fact that ACT 31 is over 25 years old, its implementation is still sporadic in Wisconsin schools. 

At the conference, students learned about how to become culturally responsive teachers, address the needs of American Indian children in school and educate all students about the American Indian culture. They also learned about the history of the Wisconsin tribes, treaty rights and federal legislations that affected all American Indians and their tribal sovereignty over the past 200 years as well as the explicit and implicit biases and the representation and stereotypes of American Indians in the media and textbooks.

Student participants included Elissa Bahr, a junior elementary education major from Platteville; Dalton Miles, a junior middle/secondary education major from Fennimore, Wisconsin; Ashley McCarville, a junior elementary education major from Darlington, Wisconsin; Robyn Maxey, a junior elementary education major from Appleton, Wisconsin; Mariah Enerson, a senior Spanish Education/TESOL major from Lone Rock, Wisconsin; and Kaitlin Ripley, a senior with a double major in biology and broad field science from Waunakee, Wisconsin.

Maxey said that the trip opened her eyes to the American Indian culture. “I not only met new people,” she said, “but I learned how to actively teach my future students about American Indians and the way they live in the 21st century. Seeing the reservations, and how they are just like Americans was a big eye opener for me. To grow up in a world where there are so many stereotypes can be difficult to know what is true and what is false. I want to show my students to respect this culture and teach them facts about American Indians.”

Students also became familiar with resources that support a multicultural curriculum, for example, how to identify authentic American Indian literature that does not simply reinforce stereotypes. In addition, students visited the Dinesen-Motzfeldt-Hettinger Log House in Crandon; the Mole Lake Indian Reservation, including a wild rice lake on the Sokaogon tribal land; and the Potawatomi Reservation, where they learned about environmental restoration projects of the Potawatomi tribe.

Bahr said that as a future educator, she loved having the opportunity to learn more about a culture she has really only seen in the movies. “With this experience, I can do a better job of educating students about American Indians and putting an end to the stereotypes we see in society,” she said.

After returning from the trip, McCarville feels more confident in her ability to teach culturally. “I have a greater desire to ask questions of new cultures as well as the want to celebrate my future students’ diversity in an appropriate manner in my classroom,” she said.

Ripley agreed, saying “It was a great experience and I learned so much. I would definitely recommend continuing to offer it to students.”

Haslauer said she was grateful that students had a chance to participate in the institute. “Opportunities like this enrich students’ higher educational experiences,” she said. “It was wonderful to see how students connected with the Forest County Potawatomi and Sokaogon Chippewa people and culture and other professionals who are passionate about the education of American Indian culture. A classroom environment simply cannot offer such an experience. I hope that seeds were planted, and someday these students will become the leaders in the appropriate implementation of ACT 31 in schools.”

The trip was made possible through funding support from UW-Platteville’s School of Education and Department of Interdisciplinary Studies.

Written by: Laurie A. Hamer, Communications Specialist, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191,


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