Urban Indigenous Arts and Sciences at UW-Madison
Accurate, Contemporary Indigenous
|Clockwise from upper left: Teachers discussing a previous presentation about
Indian mounds and their care; Books using contemporary Indigenous images and
themes for school subjects; Rachel Byington speaks to the class; The Urban
Indigenous Arts and Sciences class at The Ho-Chunk Nations’ Teejop Hochira
For the past several decades, American Indian educators, authors and researchers have been focused on developing and/or locating culturally-relevant
curriculum materials. Getting these materials into the hands of Wisconsin school teachers is sometimes easier said than done.
“Teachers may or may not have adequate resources,” said Rachel Byington, a member of Earth Partnership, Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture at
UW-Madison. “They may have resources that are not appropriate to use in the classroom. And they may not even know that it’s inappropriate to use. There are some
books that are so bad that Tribes have called them an embarrassment. There are a lot of great books and great resources. There are some great Internet resources.
But if you don’t know how to wade through it, teachers often end up using maybe what’s in the book room or maybe they find some books at a garage sale or maybe
someone ordered some books, but they don’t know what to look for, so they end up ordering stuff that’s not appropriate. Maybe they do a Google search. Maybe they
do what their teachers did. Wherever they are getting this information from, a lot of what we are seeing is not appropriate for the classroom.”
It’s not just a matter of including culturally-relevant materials into the curriculum. It’s also about not relegating the materials on Wisconsin’s tribes to an isolated
place in the students’ academic experience, but incorporating it into the math, science, social studies, artistic and other subject areas in the “mainstream”
Earth Partnership has developed the Urban Indigenous Arts and Sciences Institute that offers Wisconsin teachers a three-day workshop on including Indigenous
arts and science into their curriculum. Since 2011, Earth Partnership has collaborated with six Wisconsin tribes in presenting the material. For the first time on July
23-25, Earth Partnership held the Urban Indigenous Arts and Sciences Institute in Madison. About 20 teachers attended the institute, which was held on
consecutive days at Edgewood College, Wingra School and Teejop Hochira, the Ho-Chunk community center in Madison, combining classroom activities with
outdoor instructional activity.
During the first day at Edgewood, the educators listened to talks on Native approaches to learning and the Nations of Wisconsin. They also went on a tour of some
“We have the mounds in the Madison area and teachers can use them in their classrooms to teach about them,” Byington said. “The Ho-Chunk are the caretakers of
the mounds. Teachers and students can look at and learn from them. They may learn about taking care of the mounds. For example, when we were at Edgewood
College, Edgewood currently uses a tractor-mower to mow over the mounds. They take a heavy piece of machinery and zip it up and over the mounds. Kurt
Sampson was the presenter for that day. So we talked about not taking heavy pieces of equipment over the mounds. Maybe instead, they could use a hand-held
device. We’re worried that the heavy equipment is going to erode and degrade the mounds and it is disrespectful. Maybe they want to petition the park or maybe
they want to take over taking care of it.”
At Wingra School on Day Two, in addition to the talks on wild rice and the watershed issues, they also did an activity called Follow the Drop.
“Two Native presenters from UW-Madison use it to teach about the watershed,” Byington said. “When it rains, where does the water go? When people change their
oil in the driveway and dump the oil in the gutter, where does it go? We looked at how the water was around where it dumps out at then walked out further and
By Jonathan Gramling
In response to the venomous, ignorant and racist — and sometimes violent
— response by many northern Wisconsinites to the Ojibwe Indian tribe
exercising their federally-guaranteed treaty rights to hunt and fish on
ancestral lands — spearfishing in this instance — in the 1980s, the
Wisconsin legislature enacted a set of state statutes in 1989 known as ACT
31. ACT 31 mandated that Wisconsin school students be taught about the 11
Wisconsin federally-recognized tribes at least once on each of the
elementary, middle and high school levels.
Now it is one thing to mandate that such instruction should occur and another
for Wisconsin school teachers to be sufficiently versed on the 11 tribes and
have access to materials and books that accurately portray not only
historical information, but also contemporary issues and conditions and to
know the difference.
looked at what happened to the water. It was a real practical
understanding of what happens. Whatever is on our sidewalks,
whatever pesticide we use on our grass, it gets dumped into the street
and then it goes into our water. We did Follow the Drop from Wingra
School down to Wingra Boats.
In a water cycle presentation by Clean Lakes Alliance, the educators
learned about creating rain gardens.
“They can create a rain garden where the water runs off of the building,”
Byington said. “Instead of that water funneling out through the grass
onto the sidewalk and into the street into the storm gutters and into the
lake, they can think about maybe capturing some of that water in a rain
garden. Native curry plants have these really long roots that help funnel
and filter that water to systems down below. That is something that is
very easy for teachers to do and easier to manage. You don’t want the
grounds crew to come and mow it, so you do have to permission from
the principal. These are all good things for the kids to do, planting and
caring for that garden and watching it grow. They can see how many
plants are coming up and how fast they grow and the colors. They can
plant milkweed, which is essential for monarch butterflies. We have a
real serious problem in our society with the monarchs and the bees
disappearing. They can plant milkweed and can then watch the lifecycle
of the monarch. There are so many different things that they can
implement in the classroom that helps them accomplish something in
the real world.”
During the third day at Teejop Hochira, in addition to perusing books
with Native themes and information, the educators also went on Teejop
Hochira Trail Tour.
“With wild rice, we did an actual planting over at the Teejop Hochira,”
Byington said. “There is a storm water catchment area off of the parking
lot. We planted Native plants around it. And then we learned what the Ho-
Chunk are doing that the building. They have a field where the kids built
trails. They got to see firsthand. The kids are out on the trails and they
are learning. They are learning the practical and cultural use of the
space. What do they want people to do there? The participants got to see
the kids in action.”
Through classroom settings and hands-on experience, the educators
learned how to integrate Indigenous arts and sciences into their
classrooms to the benefit of Native and non-Native students alike.