New American Indian Studies Program Faculty at
UW-Madison Campus and Community
By Morgan James Spohn
Part 1 of 2

The history of Native American tribes, Alaska Native
tribes, and Native Hawaiians throughout the United States
is a story of resilience against insurmountable odds and
resistance to keep alive not only themselves, but a
continuous fight to preserve their sacred cultural
practices and retain their languages, stories, and history.

The Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin is just one of 11
federally recognized tribes in the state of Wisconsin. The
Ho-Chunk Nation like many tribes throughout the United
States has persevered  through several forced removals
and has showcased time and time again resiliency and
resistance to not only be present in modern America, but
to also play a significant political and economic role with
the other 10 tribes in the state of Wisconsin. Although
many tribal members know about the past forced
removals the most notable forced removal was in 1832
when the Ho-Chunk were separated from their traditional
homelands of southern and central Wisconsin. It wasn’t
until June 18 of 2019 that the University of Wisconsin-
Madison unveiled a heritage marker on top of Bascom
Hill. The marker was put there to acknowledge and
recognize that the university is located on the ancestral
land of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin. The marker also
acknowledges the circumstances that led to the Ho-Chunk’
s forced removal in 1832 and honors the Ho-Chunk Nation’
s history of resistance and resilience.

Although the marker seems like a significant step taken
by the university to finally acknowledge that the campus
is on ancestral grounds of the Ho-Chunk Nation, it most
likely would never have come up for discussion if there
had not been Native American representation in key
administration, faculty, and staff positions. When
discussing this issue in the past with Aaron Bird Bear,
one of the many influential people that led to the marker
being unveiled, he noted that without the first significant
generation of Native American college students and
scholars that were trailblazers just 70 years ago, there
might not be the positive attitude that exists today with
Native communities towards higher education. These
trailblazers shifted attitudes and opened doors of
accessibility and opportunity for future Native generations
to be able to pursue higher education. Aaron noted that
within the first generation there came to be prominent
Native American scholars that not only went on to
influence the next generation of indigenous scholars but
they also created a foundational plan to develop Native
American Studies as an Academic Discipline.

As noted in the 1970s, many universities throughout the
United States started to create and establish American
Indian Studies programs. Those programs helped bring in
Native faculty and Native allies for their regions and have
continued to shift the preconceived narrative of the
“Native American” and help Native students feel more
comfortable on college campuses. The programs also
help non-native students get a better understanding of
who Native Americans are and learn about the actual
history of local indigenous tribes and the people within the
tribes.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison established their
American Indian Studies Program in 1972, and throughout
the years it has provided academic and institutional
support to Native students while they study at UW-
Madison. The program also gives students opportunities
to develop close relationships with scholars in their
major field through classwork, community outreach, and
social activities. Within the last two years, the American
Indian Studies program has worked along with several
departments and schools on campus to hire seven new
Native American and Native American allied faculty, staff,
and lecturers.

The seven new hires in the last two years are Professor
Brian McInnes, Professor Kasey Keeler, Professor Jen
Rose Smith, Professor Sasha Maria Suarez, Professor
Susan Dominguez, Professor Laura Red Eagle, and
Brian McInnes
Chloris Lowe Ill
Susan Dominguez
Kasey Keeler
Laura Red Eagle
Jen Rose Smith
Professor Brian McInnes who is an enrolled member of the Wasauksing First Nation in Canada and a direct descendant of the Wisconsin Potawatomi tribe, was
hired by the School of Human Ecology and became an AISP-affiliated faculty member. McInnes, when he was hired, did not take too much time to get acclimated and
jumped right into the local Native American community here in Madison. Professor McInnes sees his job not only as a professor but also as someone that can help
the Madison Native community, who are considered urban Indians, stay true to their traditions and ceremonies.

“I think something that is lost for Indigenous people when you go to a university or move to a big city like Madison, is that you feel like you are losing a part of
yourself when you go there,” McInnes said. “I think I experienced a bit of that when I went to university, and I see it as my job to keep those ceremonies or traditions
going for those Native people not only attending school but also the local Natives in the community who might want to get involved.”

While that is McInnes’ hope for the local community, he also has a bigger vision for what he wants to accomplish for the university. McInnes was quite impressed at
the AIS Program when he first applied here.
“I do not want to take anything away from Director Nesper or Denise Wiyaka and the amount of time and effort that they have put in to make this a thriving program
does not go unnoticed,” McInnes said. “However; I see areas within the program that can continue to grow and there are also certain areas that can be expanded
upon that would make this program one of the best in the country and I think we have the ability and the people in place to accomplish that.”

One of the main areas McInnes touched on was that he hoped that eventually the AIS Program could be turned into a department and that then Native faculty could
be directly hired to just work in the AISP field rather than being jointly appointed. McInnes noted that it is paramount having Native American scholars in a variety of
fields, but it is also paramount in having Native scholars just focusing on Indigenous issues. And in order for them to do that, they would need to be hired separately
so they can devote their time solely on Indigenous issues. Now McInnes understands that this goal is awhile away from being accomplishable because of a
multitude of factors, but he truly believes that this goal is achievable because of the individuals in place right now at the university and also the willingness that he
has seen from the AISP leadership and university leadership.

Professor Kasey Keeler is an enrolled member of the Tuolumne Me-Wuk along with being a Citizen Potawatomi descendant. She was hired in a joint appointment
with AISP and the School of Human Ecology. When Keeler was hired in 2018, it felt like she was coming back “home,” as she completed her undergrad here at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison. During her undergrad years here it was current associate director of the American Indian Studies Program Denise Wiyaka’s class
that proved to be instrumental in Keeler’s development as a scholar.

The one thing that stood out to Keeler when she first got back on campus in 2018 was that, “It has been nice to see how much has changed for the better and
improved here, I’m specifically thinking of the growth of the AISP faculty and the increasing awareness on campus of American Indian, specifically Ho-Chunk,
history.”

Keeler sees herself a part of that continual improvement as a teacher and mentor for Native American students. And besides being a part of that improvement, she
also holds a similar goal as Professor McInnes does. Although Professor McInnes wants to help improve and continue the growth of the AIS Program, Professor
Keeler hopes to improve and grow the relationships of the diverse Native student body and the Native faculty.

“Right now, I feel there is a bit of separation,” Keeler said. “I think a large part of this is due to the fact that where the AIS Program is housed in Ingraham, there isn’t
any real student space. As such, our Native students often gather at the Indian House, which is technically on-campus, yet is not convenient for student/faculty/staff
interaction.”

Keeler wants to find a way during her time here to help improve the AIS House, in order for it to have better functionality were Native faculty could hold office hours
and allow them to become more visible figures to the Native students. While that is Keeler’s overarching goal for the university community, she also has been
instrumental in her implementation of American Indian peoples and perspective into her non-profit class instruction. “I have been very deliberate about
incorporating American Indian peoples and perspectives into my CSCS class,” Keeler said. “I think incorporating this sort of content into my CSCS class shows
students how close we all are to Native people, Native history, and a Native “presence” – that Native people are all around us. This sort of content really
encourages students to think about today’s Native communities and it opens dialog to think about Native people in Wisconsin in particular, including those in
Madison.”

Keeler hopes to continue educating non-Native students in order to spark a dialog and engagement between the non-Native and Native students in her classes, and
she believes that with this dialog and engagement that it will flow over into the Native American community in Madison.  


While Professor McInnes and Professor Keeler were afforded the opportunity to get acclimated to a university not under Covid-19 restrictions as they were both
hired in 2018. Five of the new hires were not afforded that opportunity, although they did their job interviews before Covid-19 impacted not only the United States but
also the university and the surrounding community of Madison, it has been a tumultuous experience to say the least for the other new hires.

Professor Jen Rose Smith is an Alaska Native and is an enrolled member of the Eyak tribe, she was hired in a joint appointment with the department of geography
and the AIS program. When Professor Smith obtained her doctorate in 2019 from the University of California-Berkeley she became just the 99th Alaskan Native to
achieve the honor of getting a Ph.D. She believes that without the other 98 Alaskan Natives who achieved getting their Ph.D., along with the countless other
indigenous scholars who came before her she might not have had the opportunity to become the 99th person, “my journey absolutely could not have happened
without all of the important work by those who came before me and I am indebted to their labor, perseverance, and brilliance. I hope to open as many doors as I can
for Indigenous scholars and scholarship and the many forms it may take.” What drew Professor Smith to UW-Madison is just not the snow and the cold weather as
she noted she missed experiencing when she was finishing up her degree in California, but also, “This is a great university that has a lot of support for research
programs, and that really appealed to me.” Professor Smith also noted that the Native American legal issues along with the political positioning that is ongoing in the
Midwest really stood out to her,

“Native politics in the Mid-West are different from what I have experienced before in a really great way, and I’m happy to be in this part of the country.” Although
Professor Smith is a brand new hire and is trying to adapt to a new university in the middle of a pandemic she cannot wait for it to be over so she can safely engage
with the communities, “With the pandemic, I haven’t had much of an opportunity yet to engage with communities on campus and around Madison. Outside of
exchanging emails, zoom meetings, and teaching classes online, I’m still getting to know the town and the many vibrant communities here. I’m really looking
forward to building more friendships and community connections once it’s safe to do so.”

Professor Sasha Maria Suarez who is a descendant of the White Earth Ojibwe was hired in a joint appointment with the History Department and AIS. When Professor
Suarez got the call that she had been offered the job here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison it was almost surreal and confirmed her doubts, “You know a lot of
young scholars at one point or another go through a period of self-doubt in where we ask ourselves is our work important, is our work innovative enough, and for
me when I got that job offer from the University of Wisconsin-Madison it eliminated all that self-doubt and confirmed that my work did matter and that the subject
matter that I chose which was personal for me was innovative enough for the field.” With Professor Suarez being a Native voice in history she views her job as
making sure that the Native side of history is shared, “In history you have a lot of different voices and narratives about Native American people, however what is
normally missing is the Native American perspective. So I see it as my job to challenge my students to view stereotypes and their view of native people through a
corrective lens, because from a young age we are all taught about Native Americans but from old textbooks that frame Native Americans in a certain way that runs
counter of who they were and who they are today.” Professor Suarez academic focus was on the importance of White Earth Ojibwe woman and their impact on the
urban Indian community in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota and Suarez has enjoyed teaching her students about powerful Native American woman that are
forgotten about because of the popularity and narrative surrounding Pocahontas. Although Professor Suarez’s academic goals are to challenge the preconceived
narratives of Native American people, she hopes that she can be a bridge for the younger Native and indigenous students on campus, “You know I was blessed in
that I had really great Native professors and mentors throughout my academic life as a student, and I feel like I not only owe them but could be a bridge for the native
students and native faculty here at Madison since I am younger.” Since Professor Suarez was just hired last year and this is her first academic year at UW-Madison
she hopes that once Covid is over that she can start making meaningful and impactful relationships, “Because of Covid I have not really been able to meet any other
Native faculty face to face, I have been able to see them on Zoom or communicate through email but that is not the same. So once Covid is over I hope that I can
start making connections not only with the Native American faculty and staff on campus, but also make connections with the local Native American community.”

Professor Susan Dominguez who considers herself a Native American ally as she grew up around her grandmother who would bring her along with when she
would go and visit her Native American cousins, was hired by AIS as a senior lecturer. Although she is a brand-new hire, Professor Dominguez is an alum of the
University of Wisconsin-Madison as she received her undergraduate degree, so she not only feels like it is coming home but she sees this opportunity as more her
academic career and life coming full circle. Although it is coming home to her, it is in the middle of a global health pandemic, “I know when I initially got the job
offer, I was excited, but then quickly came to the realization that we were in the middle of Covid and how was moving to going to happen safely, how was going to
be teaching in person going to safely happen, and how was learning environment going to be for my students.” Professor Dominguez highlighted that even though it
has been difficult adapting and changing her teaching style, her years of being a professor have been invaluable, “Normally my classes are very interactive I like
cold calling people and getting the students engaged but when I am teaching 40 students in a lecture hall that normally seats 400 people that changes how I have to
teach. I feel like this year I have had to prepare much more like a history professor in that I have to be prepared to talk for the allotted amount of time and not cold
call people, I was nervous about that, but I think the students have adapted well and are really engaged.” Along with teaching a literature course this semester, next
semester she is reviving a course on campus that has not been offered since 2012, “In the spring I am excited to teach the course Native Peoples of the Southwest
since that has not been offered since 2012 because since then there has not only been Covid impacting the tribes in the southwest but the Manhattan Project and
the issues surrounding that have had a better light shown on the issues that the project has had decades later.” While Professor Dominguez is at the university her
goal is just to be present at events, as she noted although she might not participate, she will still show up and show support because that is half the battle is just
showing up and being recognized. She also hopes that she can be bridge for the non-Native students who do not know how to or feel uncomfortable reaching out to
Native students in order to facilitate cooperation and build alliances and friendships.   

Professor Laura Red Eagle who is an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, was hired by AIS as a lecturer to teach the Ho-Chunk language this
academic year. Not only for her but for Cecil Garvin who she learned and taught under this is a culmination of a long and tumultuous road of teaching the Ho-Chunk
language on campus, but not getting university recognition. Around 2009 Professor Red Eagle started taking community classes taught under Cecil Garvin, and then
in 2015 Laura started teaching with Cecil at the AIS house. However, in 2017 and 2018 Cecil had several health issues and was unable to continue teaching the
class at the AIS house. Professor Red Eagle stepped up and reached out to Chloris Lowe to come and teach with her, “When Cecil was unable to continue because
of health issues, I reached out to Chloris, because from what I had experienced under Cecil the best way to teach the language is having two speakers so it almost
is like a natural environment hearing two people converse.” As Professor Red Eagle and Professor Lowe continued teaching language, now retired linguistics
Professor Rand Valentine continued to push for the Ho-Chunk language to be offered for credit at the university. It was not until this past summer when Professor
Valentine’s wish became reality, “In June we were furloughed from the tribe like many people were, and the very next day Denise Wiyaka contacted me and said hey
I think I have found a way for you to teach this falls give me a couple of days to get everything ironed out and I will get back to you.” A couple days later Denise
Wiyaka contacted Professor Red Eagle and said that she had secured the funding and accreditation for the Ho-Chunk language to be taught. Even though the classes
creation came about last minute Professor Red Eagle was quite impressed on how many students were willing to sign up for a class that had just been created, “I
think with the amount of students we currently have it is a great group, who are not only willing to learn but also engage and learn more about Native people.”

Professor Red Eagle’s two main goals for her teaching career cross over from not only the university but also into the community, “When you ask what are my
goals, my first goal is hopefully to continue teaching the Ho-Chunk language here at UW-Madison because I think with the university being located on traditional Ho-
Chunk land it is imperative that the language of the people whose land we are on should be taught at the university. My second goal is kind of similar to my first goal
however I hope that we can get the Ho-Chunk language offered in local Madison high schools, because not only would that help with the recognition of the Ho-Chunk
people being here it would bring awareness to young people some issues that they could possibly get involved with and change.

Professor Chloris Lowe who is an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, was hired by AIS also as a lecturer to teach the Ho-Chunk language.
Although he was unable to be reached for an interview Professor Red Eagle was kind enough to provide some answers about him. She said for both of them this is
kind of a dream job not only because they get to teach the Ho-Chunk language on traditional Ho-Chunk land, but also because both of them are alumni of the
University of Wisconsin-Madison. Professor Red Eagle said that she hopes that both of them continue to get the opportunity to teach the Ho-Chunk language for many
years to come at the university, but if not both of them will continue their teaching and advocacy in Madison and the surrounding area.

All of the professors hired in the last two years vary widely in the subject matter that they teach. For instance, you have one professor who teaches classes about
philanthropy and non-profits and then you have two professors who teach the Ho-Chunk language. These professors’ range vastly in their academic experiences,
differing subject matter, and department focus along with different cultural and social backgrounds, but they all have one common goal in mind. That goal is to be the
influential next wave of Native American and Alaska Native scholars who affect change not only in their fields, but to also have a positive effect on the next
generations of Native American and Alaska Native scholars that choose to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Sasha Maria Suarez
Professor Chloris Lowe. Although seven new hires for a university that has over 22,000 faculty and over 45,000 students does not
seem like a significant event, you have to look at the fact that the American Indian Studies Program provides services to around 575
students that identify as Native American, Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiian and has around 40 faculty, staff, and administrators that
make up that entire department. Within the last two years, the seven new hires have equated to around an 18 percent increase of new
faculty, lecturers and staff members for the American Indian Studies Program. Two of the new professors were hired in 2018 and were
able to experience a non-COVID-19 year along with being able to be involved with the on-campus Native community. The other five
faculty are new hires and have not had the opportunity to be properly welcomed with in-person classes, meetings, and social
engagements within the on-campus Native community and the Native community of Madison.

Since these seven faculty have been hired, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been experiencing a strange and difficult time
with COVID-19 impacting our campus and the rest of the country. All seven of the new hires have been trying to acclimate to a new campus, new departments, a new
city, and most of all trying to safely get involved and familiarize themselves with the campus and local Native communities. While COVID-19 is still an ever-present
part of society, a safe and proper way to introduce the new hires is to allow them to answer some questions not only about their work, but also what they envision as
their role in helping improve the Native American community on campus along with the local Madison Native American community once COVID-19 is over.