This is probably one of the most difficult episodes to weave together because back in my own K-12 teaching days, I think it’s fair to say that I could’ve done better to integrate indigenous perspectives and history into my English classroom. It’s something I look back on with regret. I know that in my own undergraduate studies, I learned very little about Act 31. The School of Education here at UW-Platteville has made it our mission to make sure our students truly understand the importance of responsive teaching practices and how to authentically and respectfully integrate education on the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the 11 federally recognized tribes in the state. For me, that means immersing myself in opportunities like supporting our pre-service educators during their practicums in the Bayfield school district, attending book studies and workshops, and having honest, humbling conversations. Last summer I attended the virtual Wisconsin American Indian Summer Institute and this fall I joined in on a virtual book study on Anton Treuer’s book “Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but Were Afraid to Ask.” All great opportunities. I was doing some research, recently, looking for Wisconsin K-12 examples of educators integrating Wisconsin indigenous history, culture, and contemporary issues into coursework. Most of my discoveries were from school districts adjacent to tribal land or where the student body was mostly Native American. I really had a hard time finding solid examples the further I looked south, for example. Now that could be simply because someone’s efforts were published online, but what if that true that the further we are from tribal lands or native nations, the less authentic our schools integrate education on the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the 11 federally recognized tribes in the state. In order to prompt some discussion on this, I decided to reach out to Dr. Anton Treuer, professor of Ojibwe Bemidji State University in Minnesota, and Dr. Georgo Delbow, a social studies teacher in the Clinton School District, in Southern Wisconsin. If you’re in a school not near tribal land or native nations, I’m hoping you’ll feel inspired to tackle this work even if it’s challenging and uncomfortable. And if you’re already working to appropriately integrate Wisconsin indigenous history, culture, and contemporary issues into your coursework, I’m hoping this episode inspires you to share your story as a way to inspire other teachers.
- Anton Treuer’s Website
- George Dalbo’s Website
- Wisconsin DPIs American Indian Studies — Be sure to check out the upcoming events!
- Wisconsin First Nations — Spend lots of time here! It’s packed with resources.
[Brogley]: Welcome to the Proud Rural Teacher Podcast. Hosted by the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin Platteville. The Proud Rural Teacher Podcast focuses on sharing inspiring stories of education in rural areas. With each episode, we’ll provide context, resources, and contact information for you to take these great ideas back to your communities. I’m your host Jessica Brogley. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the official position of the School of Education or the University of Wisconsin Platteville.
So this is probably one of the more difficult episodes I’ve ever had to weave together because back in my own K12 teaching days, I think it’s fair to say that I could have done a better job integrating Indigenous. Perspectives and histories into my own English classroom. It’s something that I think I’m always going to look back on with a little bit of regret, and I know that in my own undergraduate studies, I learned very little about Wisconsin’s Act 31, but the School of Education here at UW Platteville has made it our mission to make sure our students truly understand the importance of responsive teaching practices and how to authentically and respectfully integrate education on the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the 11 Federally recognized tribes in the state of Wisconsin. And for me, that means immersing myself into opportunities like supporting our preservice educators during their practicums in the Bayfield School District, attending book studies and workshops, and having honest, humbling conversations. Now, last summer I attended the Wisconsin DPI’s virtual Wisconsin American Indian Summer Institute, and this fall I joined in on a virtual book study on Anton Treuer’s book Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but Were Afraid to Ask. All were great opportunities. I was doing some research recently looking for Wisconsin K12 examples of educators integrating Wisconsin indigenous history, culture, and contemporary issues into their coursework. And most of my discoveries were from Wisconsin school districts adjacent to tribal land or where the student body was mostly indigenous. I really had a hard time finding solid examples the further I looked away from those areas. Now, that could simply be because someone’s efforts weren’t published online. They’ve never told their story or their Lessen their idea to others. But what if I’m on to something? What if the further we are from tribal land or or say Native nations, the less authentic our schools integrate education on the history, culture and tribal sovereignty of our 11 federally recognized tribes in the state of Wisconsin? So in order to prompt some discussion on this, I decided to reach out to Dr. Anton Treuer, Professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University in Minnesota, and a teacher in Southern Wisconsin Dr. George Dalbo. If you’re in a school not near tribal land or Native nations, I’m hoping you’ll feel inspired to tackle this work, even if it’s challenging and uncomfortable, and if you’re already working to appropriately integrate Wisconsin Indigenous history, culture, and contemporary issues, I’m hoping this episode inspires you to share your story as a way to inspire other teachers. So in this first section, let’s meet Dr. Anton Treuer.
[Treuer]: My name’s Anton Treuer, and I’m a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University. So Ojibway is our tribal language. It’s one of 29 tribes that are in the Algonquian language family. It’s actually a pretty big group. We might have around 650,000 Ojibwe tribal members scattered across several U.S. states and Canadian provinces. I kind of sit on a 3-legged stool. So one of those is through my work with Ojibwe language and culture revitalization that spans my work at the university, but also my community service around Ojibwe ceremonies. From everything from naming ceremonies and healing ceremonies to even traditional Ojibwe funerals. Another leg of the stool that I, you know, stand on is that I do a lot of diversity, equity and inclusion work, and that keeps me with a pretty hefty travel schedule. I do a lot of work with K12 educators, but also law enforcement, Higher Ed, health professionals, and so forth. And, you know, together, cultural service, language revitalization and DI work…those three legs of the stool or three strands of a braid they feed one another in a lot of different ways. I’ve published about 20 books now, and they range on a variety of topics, from general reader things like Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but Were Afraid to Ask, to some history books, some Ojibwe language books, and a variety of other things.
[Brogley]: As someone who teaches in a rural space, I think about this a lot. Why is it important for schools to cover indigenous experience and history even if there are no native families living in that particular community region or school district? District?
[Treuer]: Yes. So first of all. I don’t know, if I packed up my bags and moved to Germany, I would expect somebody to speak to me in German. And I would find myself rude if I didn’t at least make an effort to learn the local language. I would expect to learn something about the history of Germany and the little hamlet in Germany where I happened to live. And that would be of benefit not just to those around me, but of benefit to me to understand the place that I call home. For all Americans. I think it is important that we understand the first people of the land. The many 10s of thousands of years of human history before everybody else came to understand and acknowledge that we are not a nation of immigrants. We are a nation with immigrants with indigenous peoples. With enslaved Africans in its origins, we were at a time now when in America the majority of the K12 students are students of color. And that’s who’s here. And it kind of doesn’t matter. Democrats, Republicans. Build a wall. Don’t build a wall. That is who’s here. And we are moving around. The rates of interracial marriage are higher than they’ve ever been. And we are going to have to figure out how to get along and how to learn from one another. And learning about people from a group other than our own is not an act of charity for the marginalized, but it’s a gift to us and to our kids to equip them. Not for some fantasy land that will never exist, but the world that they’re actually going to live in and operate in and get married in and have careers in and learn in and so as part of getting along.
Learning about, understanding, and appreciating people from many different backgrounds is going to be critical. It might be hard to believe for some Americans, especially in rural areas where, you know, people tend to think we live in one of the whitest parts of the whitest states of the whitest countries on planet Earth. But the reality is quite different and ultimately, you know, we are seeing a kind of scale of demographic shift that is going to affect everybody. For the most part, in the lives of the young people we teach, there will be no racial majority group. We will all be minorities. And learning about minorities means we get to learn about ourselves as well as the rest of the world, and In addition to that training our brains to accept, appreciate and understand a range of experiences will equip us. And equip our children for the greatest possible success at whatever they set their minds to. Our goal as educators should be to prepare our kids for a world we can only imagine, but we have to imagine will be a diverse place.
[Brogley]: Educators want to do well. How is it that they can cover the indigenous experience and history respectfully?
[Treuer]: Yeah, you know, first of all, I think, most of us have some concern about offending someone. Or exposing ignorance, and we often tell teachers you have to be the content expert. Who delivers to passive students who spit things out on a test. And there’s no way for any of us to be an expert on all of the different kinds of diversity. And so, for example, if a topic comes up like Columbus. Teachers are often thinking, “Oh no, if I say this, the Italians will get mad. And if I say that, have you ever seen an angry native mom? What am I gonna do?” As little as possible. But if that’s what we do, we end up building our educational response a little bit less around the needs of the students. And a little bit more around our own comforts. And one of the things we need to do is be brave and lean in and not just do the minimum that we are required to in the state standards, but to really think about how we can best serve all of our kids? And there are a lot of tools that we can apply in that effort. So for example, in America, there we have this blessing and curse of lots of local control and education. And it is both. It’s hard to have a national policy that’s actually effective or useful for people. That’s the curse part. But the blessing is there’s room for innovation and we do have a lot of it in America. So we have about 30 schools that are formally titled Expeditionary Schools and you’ll recognize some of their techniques and strategies that come out of Montessori and some of the other big educational models, but the idea is that the teacher does not have to be the content expert on all the different kinds of content. The teacher has to ask big guiding questions and coach the quest for learning and students can exhibit knowledge in many different ways. It doesn’t have to just be a written test, and certainly that’s been a bigger evolution in education broadly going on right now. And so it can be quite liberating for the teacher, you know, to ask questions about, you know, how does photosynthesis work, or, you know, what is the process for understanding that. Or what happened and how did that change the world? And who was responsible for, you know, some of those changes and those sorts of things? You know, get the teacher out of the position of having to pick sides in a culture war. And especially in some of our states, people are terrified. You know, we have people telling, who have no training in education, telling educators what to do in a way that has never happened before and on a scale that has never happened before, and people are worried about, you know, just having a parent-teacher conference get political or a school board meeting and it is a troubling time. But I think, for example, if a teacher is asking big guiding questions even around the very toughest topics and not evaluating anyone’s perspective or opinions, but simply their knowledge of the content. There are ways to navigate all kinds of things very effectively, holding room for diversity of opinions, perspectives and points of view, but still connecting kids to information in a way that will show measurable outcomes and hit all of our marks in the standards and empower all of our kids. To know about themselves as well as the rest of the world.
[Brogley]: Oof. You know, when I reflect back on what you’re saying, I certainly wish that I could go back and do my entire high school English teaching career over again. I definitely have some regrets there. I had opportunities to connect with Indigenous students, and I didn’t because I was afraid of offending, of misspeaking, of overstepping, I generally felt like I had no business talking about their histories and their culture. Maybe I didn’t understand my role as their teacher.
[Treuer]: It’s an understandable and relatable response. And in this day and age, not everybody is calling in, meaning calling people into conversations, they’re calling each other out. You know, there’s finger pointing and there’s kind of a lot of shut up culture, you know, and things like that and it’s very uncomfortable, but I would say this. You know when we become parents, for example, I imagine a lot of people in education are parents. When we bring a child into the world, we don’t expect that to be comfortable. From the birth of little kids, we know there will be fevers and puke and up all night, and probably ornery teenagers too. But because that is our expectation we know to expect some discomfort being apparent can be one of the most beautiful and rewarding experiences that many of us have. So what if we addressed an often self-professed ideal like love thy neighbor as thyself. And we actually did? We would be willing to experience a little bit of discomfort. To do our best. To give them their best chance at a long, healthy, happy life. What if we actually didn’t just profess, but truly loved justice? We would do whatever it took, just like we do whatever it takes to make sure that our kids have long, healthy, happy lives. We would do whatever it took to engineer justice. And so, although we speak to these things, to really think about and reflect on them. If we internalize that, we will have a justice approach rather than a just us approach. And the kids of all backgrounds will benefit from that.
[Brogley]: What if we truly loved justice? There’s a lot to think about here, and I definitely have some goals to set this summer. Dr. Treuer, how do teachers connect and keep learning from you?
[Treuer]: Oh sure. So first of all, I am happy to avail myself to anybody you know tuning into the podcast. My name is Anton Treuer. So Anton last name is spelled TREUER. It’s got 3 vowels in a row. I’m a native guy with a German last name. And my website is just my first and last name, youknow.com. A Google search would turn me up as well. And on my website, I’ve got a tab for resources and there’s educator or teacher resources. And I’ve got lists of Indigenous-authored books as well as content resources on a variety of topics. I’ve got a YouTube channel and on there we’ve got everything from Ojibwe, word of the day, you know, for simple easy access, learning about the tribal language to lots of content pieces. And they’re kind of divided into playlists on racial equity, on, you know, indigenous history and a whole bunch of other topics as well. And I do have video shorts on resources for educators. It’s interesting, but, you know, even somewhat we would. Think of as, you know, pretty conservative places politically have done a lot of work on indigenous stuff. So Montana has indigenous education for all, and they’ve got a thread running through the standards for the entire state and lots of resources on their state website. David O’Connor, who you know with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, has developed a lot of tools and resources in Wisconsin because all educators have to have at least a class on Native American. Topics and then there are many other states. Alaska has a standalone set of curricular standards for Alaskan, Native Alaskan languages and cultures, and lots of resources there. And then there are many more specific and kind of detailed things that people can hunt for. Two different curricular efforts. A lot of people are publishing, publishing things, even online with a Creative Commons license. Even an organization that most of your listeners would know like teachers pay teachers, is now doing a lot more work in content moderation. So they used to be like the Wikipedia of educational resources, but they’re providing a lot more guidance and they even have training modules about best practices in curriculum development and things like that, and I think that kind of work will only grow. So there’s a lot of content out there and I encourage you to look for the few resources that I briefly mentioned here and then follow those to all of the other things that are out there.
[Brogley]: So there’s a lot to unpack here, but I hope Doctor Treuer’s words left you with perspective and inspiration. Next, let’s meet a teacher in rural Wisconsin who has taken on this work. Dr. George Dalbo is a social studies teacher in the Clinton School District in southern Wisconsin, far from any of the federally recognized nations in the state. Now I just want to reiterate that it’s not that I think teachers just aren’t doing this work. I just want to share stories of people who are in hopes of inspiring others. Let’s hear how Doctor Dalbo has taken steps to integrate. Indigenous knowledge into his classroom.
[Dalbo]: Thank you so much for this opportunity. So my name is George Dalbo, and I’m a high school social studies teacher in a rural school district in South Central Wisconsin, just outside of Beloit. In a community of about 2000 people or so, and in a high school. It’s actually a junior Senior High School of about 400 students total. And I’ve been teaching in Wisconsin only for the past three years. I, before that, was teaching in Minnesota and I’ve taught in, I guess I’ve taught social studies at every grade from 5th through 12th and most social studies disciplines and subjects. And I’ve taught in, you know, big urban public schools, charter schools, suburban schools, rural public schools. And so I’ve had just a wealth of experience. I also was fortunate, a few years ago, to be able to go back to school full-time at the University of Minnesota and work towards my PhD in social studies education. And my research really focuses on genocide education and how teachers teach about genocide in middle and in high school social studies classrooms in the United States.
[Brogley]: What a wealth of experience you bring to a public school, to a K12 institution. What do you teach at Clinton Community School District at the high school?
[Dalbo]: Yeah. So at Clinton, we’re a small school and I teach every sophomore in world history and I have one section of students in the Advanced Placement world history course and then I teach most of the junior senior electives that we have here. So I teach economics, sociology, I teach personal finance and not all at once right, but spread semester by semester different courses. I also was fortunate coming here to develop and teach a genocide and human rights course which I offer every semester.
[Brogley]: Now I noticed when I was looking through your website that you have a passion for teaching Wisconsin indigenous history and culture etcetera. And I find that particularly interesting because you’re not near one of the Wisconsin federally recognized tribes. I feel that the further our districts are removed from that space, the less authentically perhaps or frequently they’re teaching about Wisconsin indigenous history, culture and contemporary issues. So my question for you is quite loaded, but I’m hoping you’ll expand on this. How do you teach Wisconsin indigenous history, culture and contemporary issues in a non-indigenous space? With non-indigenous students, right? That seems to be a challenge I think a lot of Wisconsin educators face and I truly believe they want to do it well but aren’t necessarily sure how.
[Dalbo]: I really appreciate the question. I should maybe preface all of this by saying that really my PhD dissertation explored though I’m interested in genocide education, and I often kind of position myself within the burgeoning field of genocide education, I’m particularly interested in how you teachers navigate questions around Indigenous genocide. And so a lot of my work is really focused on teaching about Indigenous history and culture, in particular looking at mass violence perpetrated against Indigenous communities, indigenous nations in the United States. And so the bulk of my, my professional, you know, my research career has focused on that. But obviously, also in my classroom, I tried to explore teaching about indigenous peoples and cultures. I mentioned before that I am coming from Minnesota. I actually grew up in New York State, in Western New York. And I grew up in kind of a strange circumstance. I lived immediately adjacent a native reservation and the Seneca Allegheny reservation and went to a school where you know 50% or so the student population was a small rural school but 50% of the students were Seneca, were indigenous and I wasn’t as a non-indigenous person you know living in that area what I think was. Interesting for me and something I didn’t realize until I was in a social studies methods program, social studies licensure program, was that we never talked about the Seneca in you know the school. When I was growing up most of the teachers were non-indigenous white teachers and though the students 50% were Seneca, we never talked about Seneca history. I have fond memories of learning about, you know, Plains so-called Plains Indians, you know, the Lakota, the Sioux, learning about Sitting Bull. I even have a project that my mother kept in a scrapbook in a little essay that I wrote and did a little drawing about Sitting Bull. And so we did learn about indigenous peoples. We learned about even mass violence perpetrated against indigenous nations. But it was never local examples. And I think as I was going through a licensure program and you know, thinking about myself as a social studies teacher and doing a lot of work to think about myself as a social studies student, you know in New York. But I was going through a program in Minnesota and I really, the program didn’t ask that. I learned a lot about the Indigenous, you know, the Ojibwe, the Initshi Nabe or the Dakota in Minnesota. And I thought it’s up to me then to do this work and make sure, because I didn’t grow up in Minnesota to make sure that I have the background that I can teach about this in responsible ways. And, you know, I was really reflecting on my experience of not learning local history. And I think that pushed
me as a teacher early in my career to focus on Minnesota indigenous history teaching in Minnesota. And as I moved to Wisconsin three years ago, I took it upon myself to do that same work to learn about the indigenous landscape of what is now Wisconsin. And, you know, I think that is really important, that teachers aren’t often asked to do this in licensure programs, despite requirements like Act 31. And I think it’s. It’s important that social studies teachers in particular do the work to make sure that they’re teaching about local histories, even if they’re not teaching students that come from those nations. But maybe to answer more concretely your question about how I do this. I try to do this in all of my courses. Some I spend more time talking about indigenous issues and indigenous peoples. Like my genocide course. We spend a big chunk of time, a big unit focused on indigenous genocide, both locally, and nationally in terms of the United States and U.S. history, and then globally. But even in world history, I try to talk about local indigenous history, even though it might seem antithetical to teaching a world history course. And I think for me part of this in teaching about this is to help students understand that despite the fact that my students, most of them the vast that 99% are non-indigenous, I’m not indigenous as their teacher. That we, you know, despite this, have a relationship to indigeneity into this violence, this history and that it isn’t. As a teacher, it isn’t something that I’m not indigenous, so I don’t need to or I don’t have to or I shouldn’t teach about this. My students aren’t indigenous and so I don’t have to, I don’t need to, I shouldn’t teach about these issues. But we as non-indigenous Americans also have a relationship to things like treaties. And so if we think about Act 31 in this requirement that teachers are teaching about treaty rights and treaty relationships, that we also have a relationship to these treaties as non-indigenous Wisconsinites. And you know, I think of so much work that’s coming out of Canada recently where there are calls. Such as we are all treaty people to push all Canadians to recognize their responsibilities under these treaties. And I try to introduce that to my students early on in a lot of my classes. I actually start with an exercise where we write land acknowledgments and students and I look at many examples from local institutions like Beloit College or the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, their land acknowledgments. And then we look at past examples from semesters before, years before, where I’ve written them with students, and we think about writing our own and what does it mean for us in this moment, this particular class, to write and then post a land acknowledgment. And we think about the fact that we are not near, you know, contemporary indigenous land or indigenous nations in Wisconsin, but that we are on Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi land. And what does it mean maybe to foster some sort of relationship with these communities? And we do reach out every year. I think I’m very clear with my students that there’s a way to reach out, but. To ask for guidance and advice in terms of writing our land acknowledgment and guiding some of this work, but also that this is our work that we need to take on ourselves as well and to do the research and to understand the history. And so every year we construct land acknowledgments and I think I post them usually on the back of my classroom door and students see them every day as they come and go from the class. And I think there’s a certain connection to that. From the very beginning of the class and recognizing that we are on Indigenous land.
[Brogley]: What’s the reaction to doing that work?
[Dalbo]: You know, I do get some pushback from students early on. And I think, you know, I’ll just be honest. I’ve been teaching for 17 years. I’m a white man. I’m, you know, older. I’m in my 40s. And I don’t get, maybe, the same pushback I would if I were someone else. But I do get pushback from students who are resistant to the idea. Of writing and posting land acknowledgment or framing the class in that way, especially a world history class. I get questions like what does this have to do with world history? And I think for me, you know, it’s about slowing down and navigating those questions and really answering them for students and leaning into this and making sure that they feel like they’ve been heard. And I’ve never had a situation where after a little bit of time and a little bit of work together, we’re not able to overcome some of those, you know, hurdles. And you know, I think for the most part, get buy-in from all students.
[Brogley]: You also address contemporary issues with students related to Indigenous culture.
[Dalbo]: I think it’s really important to bring in contemporary issues when talking about Indigenous communities. There’s I think a trend in social studies, in education, I think in the United States, just socially, you know, in our collective memory and collective narratives to push indigenous peoples into the past. You can look at, you know, there are examples of this in education, many states that have more specific social studies standards than Wisconsin. Most of those standards cover indigenous peoples or history or culture. It’s pre nineteen hundred seems to be kind of a tipping point and often, and I see this a lot working with social studies teachers or even in my own classroom looking at curricula. A lot of the education around indigenous issues is about things that happened many years ago, maybe pre Wounded Knee right? The massacre at Wounded Knee and it’s I think living within a settler colonial nation state and you know if we frame the United States as a settler colonial nation state and think about some of the logics some of the the the grammars some of the mechanisms that undergird and and allow the state to continue to function as a settler colonial nation state, one of those is the erasure of indigenous peoples. And we see this through, you know, episodes of mass violence in the past. And I think today we see it, you know, through kind of narratives that relegate native peoples to the past. I’ve actually been asked by students when talking about Indigenous history and culture. I’ve had students ask me in the past “but I thought all native people were dead right?” when we’re talking about contemporary issues. And I think this is part of a larger trend within our society. And so I think for me, I am very clear in framing the United States with my students as a settler colonial nation-state. And we talk about what settler colonialism is. So not only do I teach about settler colonialism, but I think I like to think that I teach with settler colonialism and help push my students to uncover some of those logics, some of those ways in which settler colonialism operates. And one of those would be the erasure of indigenous peoples from narratives from the present even. And so we then use that as a starting point to bring in more contemporary issues. And I think this is so important. I mean Act 31 is really asking us to do this. I talked to a lot of teachers who say, you know, in Wisconsin, I meet Act 31 by talking about the Trail of Tears. And he said, well, no, that’s not the spirit of Act 31 at all, right? It’s talking about local Indigenous, you know, the Indigenous communities that are living in what is today Wisconsin. And talking about some of the issues and even the violence that led to the creation of Act 31 in, you know, the 1970s and into the 1980s around treaty rights and things like this. And so to make sure that we are talking about those things. For me, I also think it’s really important to keep a focus on land and to think about, you know, the aim of the settler colonial state is to, you know, is to take land from indigenous communities and to really talk about how that has happened and how that continues to to be the case in the United States. And so we often focus on things like national forests or national parks. I think there’s a trend within social studies to, you know, talk about the national parks as what is the quote, America’s greatest, you know, invention or, you know, greatest idea. Another way to look at national parks and national forest land or land grant universities like the University of Wisconsin is that these were all ways to essentially rest land from indigenous communities. And I think that then can be used as a bridge to talk about all sorts of things like the Ho-Chunk who are actively buying back land now, you know in our area and you know what does, what does land back mean? What does decolonization really mean if we’re talking about land return or to talk about environmental issues, you know pipelines and pollution and climate change. I think many of my students would recognize these are, you know, threatening indigenous communities but also threatening their own way of life in rural Wisconsin.
[Brogley]: And How do you help them manage feelings of defensiveness? I’m picturing some students saying, “Yeah, that was a long time ago. My family didn’t do that. My grandpa didn’t do that. My ancestors bought their land. They didn’t take it. Why do I have to feel bad about this now?”
[Dalbo]: That’s a great question. And I face that sort of pushback from students all the time, right? And I think, you know, educators that do work around whiteness, you know, understand this as well. I think I try to frame a lot of what I do. You know, I’m, I’m not a scholar. I’m not a teacher of indigenous histories and culture. I like to think that I focus on settlerness and in the ways in which, you know, settlerness, you know, exhibits in education and within my students. Right. And some of the narratives that they come into my class with. And so one of the ways that we talk about this issue with, you know, this isn’t my problem, this happened a long time ago and you know, I don’t need to worry about this is to look at some of the narratives that still circulate. And so in the middle of the little community Clinton where I teach, there is a park, and in that park is a cabin that is it’s it’s an original cabin from one of the early settlers to the area in the 1830s. And there’s a sign in front of this cabin that talks about how the cabin is there as a memorial, as a reminder for, you know, the struggles of these early settlers. And, you know, my students and I, sometimes we’ve walked down, we’ve taken a little mini field trip down to this park. Other times I showed them the picture. I mean, they’re all aware of it and they’re all, many of them though haven’t stopped to look at this in a long time. They drive by it every day. But that’s it. We look at the sign. And it doesn’t take them long to realize that what’s missing from the sign is the violence, the Black Hawk War that, you know, that was fought on this land, you know, literally on the farms and the fields where they’re living. This war was fought to remove indigenous peoples, to allow families to come and settle here and even if your family wasn’t. You know, among the first settlers to this region, though I do teach a lot of students who are 5th, 5th, 6th, 6th, 7th generation Clintonians that we all have. You know, by living on this land, by working, by studying on this land, by going to school here, that we all have this relationship to this, this place and the violence that allowed us to be here even today. One of the activities that I often do in class is we rewrite that sign so that students have a chance to work through. You know, what could be present in a historical marker like this that isn’t. And so I think that helps really to push students to see this relationship. We do partner I. I have in the past and you know, I try every year to partner with Indigenous peoples, especially the Ho-chunk, and bring folks into my classroom to talk. To partner with us in ways that they’re willing to. And I’ve been more successful some years than others. But I think that’s another way to allow students to understand how indigenous people are still living on this land today. And I think to break some of my students have a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be indigenous and, you know, I’ve heard from students when we’ve had someone come in and visit, but, you know, they weren’t acting in this way or they weren’t dressed in this way. You know, some stereotypical dress, some stereotypical mannerisms. And to help them think about indigeneity today in the present. I think it’s so important now.
[Brogley]: I would think that there are plenty of educators who tiptoe and maybe are apprehensive to really dive into Wisconsin indigenous history and culture beyond what Wisconsin, you know, history press, beyond what the textbook gives them in fear of misstepping in, fear of offending, in fear of being stereotypical right and repeating some of the the the wrong histories. And you obviously do such a great job at telling, giving kids an opportunity to tell the stories that haven’t been told. But how do those teachers who are apprehensive, how do they go about gaining confidence in their own understanding and ability to teach about Wisconsin indigenous history and culture?
[Dalbo]: Yeah. It’s a great question. And I, you know, I said before and I can’t stress enough that teachers just simply need to do the work. You have to read. You have to reach out to communities. You have to visit their sites. You know communities across Wisconsin are actively constructing museum spaces and things that you can visit and you know even the Ho-Chunk have on their website a form for educators to fill out. Just a quick, you know, I’d like to be put in touch with someone to talk through what I’m teaching and they’ll get back to you. I also think that this apprehension is, maybe, if you know this is work that I do with my students to take some of those fears and that apprehension and label it as it really should be that it is, you know, a part of these settler colonial logics. That’s giving me an out to say, well, you know, I don’t want to misstep. And so I just, you know, it’s better that I don’t talk about these issues. I remember talking to an educator here in Wisconsin and asking the question, “Do you teach about indigenous genocide in a genocide studies course?” And the person said, “Oh, it’s just so complex, indigenous history and indigenous genocide. And I just, I don’t have the time to do it justice. And so, you know, if I had the time, if I had, if it were a year-long instead of a semester course, then you know, perhaps I would do this.” I understand the idea that you know, we, of course, never have the time and we want to make sure that we’re doing these histories, these stories, and these narratives justice, but I think by just leaving them out completely we’re giving into the settler colonial logics and you know, allowing for, you know, these spaces to remain, you know, white, you know, Euro American spaces and Euro American curricula. And I guess I would push teachers to really examine those apprehensions. I think when I talk at conferences for educators about indigenous history, indigenous genocide, and indigenous issues one of the first questions I reliably almost always get is “Do we, do we call people Native Americans? Do we call them Indians? What term do I use?” And I always think that’s such an interesting question because of course any term is incorrect unless you’re using the term that the people want to be called, right, that the people themselves are using to refer to themselves. And all of these terms, Indian, Native American, American, Indian, indigenous, right, are all incorrect in some way. And I think maybe looking at things through that lens helps us get over some of this fear of, you know, I don’t want to be incorrect. But yeah, I mean, there’s gotta be a starting point, and I think people need to jump in and start talking about some of these issues.
[Brogley]: Yeah, it’s a great question, but it’s loaded.
[Dalbo]: Yeah, it’s a difficult one to answer. Yeah.
[Brogley]: And wouldn’t you agree that this doesn’t all rest on a social studies teacher’s back?
[Dalbo]: No, I always talk about social studies because that’s where I teach and you know that’s my background. But you know I think this is something Act 31 would, you know, would implore that every teacher is taking this up in their class. And so it’s not just social studies teachers but everyone is trying to bring in indigenous issues into school spaces and I think, maybe, in that way thinking of it too as it’s not just me as one teacher doing this as the 7th grade, 8th grade, 4th grade, 10th grade social studies teacher, but that I have colleagues that I can rely on as well is important. And you know, having those conversations about what can you bring to the table and what can I bring to the table. I’ll say that also Wisconsin, I mean, there are tremendous resources that exist through DPI and David O’Connor, who is the head of American Indian Ed at DPI, hosts, you know, book clubs, many a year webinars, and I recognize as a teacher it’s sometimes a struggle to attend a book club or a webinar in the afternoon, but they are just incredibly revealing. And for me, as someone who’s new to the state, or I imagine for newer teachers within the state who maybe didn’t have a lot of this in their own education, those resources have been invaluable for me.
[Brogley]: Please consult our show notes For more information on Dr. Anton Treuer’s work, Dr. George Dalbo’s Work Wisconsin Act 31, and the Wisconsin DPI’s American Indian Studies resources and events. There you’ll find many resources, including a link to the 27th Annual Wisconsin American Indian Studies Summer Institute hosted in the Bayfield School District at the end of July.
The Proud Rural Teacher Podcast is hosted by the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin Platteville. The theme music was created by agriculture and technology education major Calvin Coldron. Be sure to subscribe to the PRT Podcast and visit us online at proudruralteacherpodcast.com. And if you have an episode suggestion or feedback, please leave us a Speak Pipe message on our website. Thanks for listening.