Next Steps for Moving Beyond the Asterisk and Toward Better Support for Our First Nations Students

This semester CATL partnered with staff and faculty in the First Nations Studies (FNS) program to bring you a series of events and resources on how to better support our Native students. Often after these types of events, attendees feel moved and invigorated to help affect change, but are at a loss for where to begin. While we recognize that there is no easy checklist to follow for becoming a better ally, we have collected some suggestions made by First Nations students, staff, and faculty during these events in the hopes that it might give you a starting place.  

Please note that throughout this post we use the terms First NationsNative, and American Indian interchangeably to refer to those who identify with any of the 574 federally recognized Tribal Nations in the United States, as all three terms are used in scholarly writing on First Nations topics. 

Changes to Advocate for at an Institutional Level

Smudging, a regular and recurring part of many Native individuals’ religious practices, involves burning sacred plants to create smoke and is often conducted in living spaces to remove negative energy. To smudge in UWGB student housing, students must fill out a form and submit it to Residence Life at least one week in advance each time they smudge, as well as meet with a Residence Life staff member after submitting the form to discuss the location where the smudging will take place and receive fire extinguisher training. Some have likened our current smudging policy to requiring a week’s notice in advance every time one wishes to pray.

Our current policy also lack transparency both in the protocols students are expected to follow and in the religious protections students are provided. As a result, many First Nations students have reported feeling scared to smudge for fear of getting in trouble. In some cases, students have even had their dorms searched by campus police after smudging due to misinformed reports of smoke or odors. UW-Superior's smudging policy provides an example of a much more robust and accommodating policy at another UW institution that we could borrow from as we consider reforming our own policy.

Visual representation in the form of art, photography, and other displays around campus is important, however it is only helpful if done in a respectful and meaningful manner. Some of our First Nations students and alumni have asked that we evaluate our campus’s current depictions of First Nations peoples and ensure that their inclusion is positive and thoughtful. At minimum, artwork by Native artists or photography of Native peoples displayed on campus should include names, dates, tribes, etc., to provide context for the work. We should also strive to increase visual depictions of contemporary First Nations peoples on our campus, rather than just historical photos and references.

Our First Nations students cite the Center as one of the most important support systems during their time at UWGB, as it is one of the best ways for them to connect with staff and faculty that are also of a Native background. For non-native students, staff, and faculty, the Center is also a great educational resource, and yet, many are still unaware of its existence. If the university hired a full-time staff to manage the Center’s resources and educational materials, we could expand and refine our collection to make it an even better resource for research and education.

Recently the photos of alumni that hung in Mary Ann Cofrin Hall were replaced with photos of new individuals. Among those original photos were two particularly important Native figures from our community—William Gollnick, who served as Oneida Chief of Staff from 2006–2011, and the late Maria Hinton, an Oneida Tribal Elder. Many in the FNS program have expressed that they wish for these photos to be tracked down and either hung in a new location or turned over to the Education Center for First Nations Studies so they can display them.

The inclusion of Native faculty and staff at a predominantly white institution (PWI) helps break down longstanding stereotypes about Native peoples, especially when their presence is seen and felt in a variety of professional areas. As highlighted in the introduction of Beyond the Asterisk, Native faculty and staff are also key to Native student success, especially at PWIs. It is important to our students that they can see themselves reflected in the faculty and staff they interact with on a daily basis. As a non-native ally, continue to support the First Nations faculty and staff around you and encourage our institution to continue hiring Native individuals in a variety of positions and departments.

Changes You Can Implement Personally 

In 2018, First Nations faculty at UWGB created our university’s own land acknowledgment statement. Including the land acknowledgment in your teaching or other practices is a way to help First Nations students feel seen and acknowledged. If you’d like to learn more about the land acknowledgment, we encourage you to watch this roundtable panel on the topic from the 2021 Instructional Development Institute and then read this blog post for follow up resources and suggestions.

The university’s Education Center for First Nations Studies and the Intertribal Student Council promote many campus-wide or public events that create spaces for non-native students, staff, and faculty to learn about Indigenous cultures and form relationships with their Native colleagues and peers.

While students should feel welcome to share their own experiences or knowledge of First Nations topics, they should never feel pressured to do so just because of how they identify. Be careful not to single out a Native student or treat them as a “spokesperson” for people of their background or other Indigenous backgrounds; to do so is a form of tokenism.

Our Education Center for First Nations Studies, which has its own curated collection of resources, is a great place to look for educational materials for yourself or for your classroom. The Center also sponsors Elder Hours in which any member of the campus community can drop in during certain hours (either in-person at the Center or virtually via Zoom, depending on COVID guidelines) and meet with a local tribal elder. Stay tuned to see if Elder Hours will continue over Zoom or return to in-person for Fall 2021.

Wisconsin First Nations, created in collaboration between the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s American Indian Studies Program, PBS Wisconsin, and the UW-Madison's School of Education, is a site full of educational resources on Wisconsin American Indian studies. The Disproportionality Technical Assistance Network has also compiled a fantastic collection of articles, publications, media, and more on First Nations histories, cultures, stories, and educational practices. You can also consult our university’s First Nations Studies Library Guide for a collection of educational resources accessibility through the Cofrin Library.

Encourage the First Nations students that you teach, mentor, or work with to apply for internships, participate in undergraduate research, get involved with student organizations, and engage in other opportunities that will help develop their personal and professional skills. If you teach and your course has group projects, lab groups, or small group discussions, consider rotating the leaders/facilitators so students that might not typically volunteer to lead still get an opportunity as well.

Are there opportunities for you to include the work of First Nations authors, scientists, musicians, or artists in your content area? One example offered by a former student was to include the work of Native poets in an English course. Additionally, are there faculty in your field at a local tribal college that you could collaborate with or invite into your classroom as a speaker? Look for ways to meaningfully and intentionally include their voices and presence in your own work. The staff of the Education Center for First Nations Studies would be happy to assist you in finding those materials or making those connections.

First Nations students often report feeling invisible or othered. Like any students, Native students want to be seen as people. To the same extent that you would with any other student, make an effort to get to know your First Nations students on a personal level—learn their names, greet them in the halls, ask them how their day is going, etc. Though small, these simple actions help build trust—and eventually relationships—over time.
As a student, it takes a lot of courage to speak up and share your point of view. When Native students do so, it is our job to listen. Doing so shows that we value them and their perspectives, and makes them feel more welcomed, heard, and understood.

Thank You

There is still much work to be done, but by working together on these initiatives we can make strides towards a more supportive and inclusive environment for our First Nations students. We welcome you to take these next steps with us as we make UW–Green Bay a better place for all to learn, grow, and succeed.


This post, the Beyond the Asterisk reading group, and the First Nations Students’ Perspectives of UW–Green Bay film showing and panel are a part of a larger series created in collaboration with the staff and faculty of the First Nations Studies program. View the series, titled Building Our Shared Stories Through First Nations Student Engagement, and a complete list of events here.


 

First Nations Students’ Perspectives of UW-Green Bay. Film premiere and panel discussion: Friday, April 30, 1-2 p.m. A film by Kelly House.

Film Showing and Panel: “First Nations Students’ Perspectives of UW-Green Bay” (Friday, April 30. 1–2 p.m.)

Though our university has made strides in how we serve students from historically underrepresented and underserved populations, there is still much work to be done. To shed some light on how we can improve the ways in which we support our First Nations students, UW–Green Bay student Kelly House (Oneida Nation), a graduating senior of the Psychology and First Nations Studies programs, was a member of a team that conducted compelling interviews on the subject with UWGB students, faculty, staff, and recent alumni. Since then, Kelly has stayed with the project and edited highlights of those interviews into a short film through her Native American Research Center for Health (NARCH) internship through the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council (GLITC).

Please join us Friday, Apr. 30, from 1–2 p.m. for the virtual premiere of Kelly’s film, followed by a facilitated discussion led by a panel of First Nations students, alumni, faculty, and staff.

Register Here

This event is a part of a larger series created in collaboration with the staff and faculty of the First Nations Studies program. View the series, titled Building Our Shared Stories Through First Nations Student Engagement, and a complete list of events here.

Building Upon the Land Acknowledgment

Post by Crystal Lepscier and Sam Mahoney

Introduction: What is the Land Acknowledgment, Why Does It Matter?

As we reckon with our nation’s history of genocide and oppression of Indigenous peoples, it is growing increasingly common for institutions of higher learning to create a land acknowledgment statement. Our university’s own land acknowledgment recognizes that our institution lives on the sacred and ancestral land of the Menominee and the Ho-Chunk Nations, while also acknowledging the twelve First Nations that currently reside in Wisconsin. Its inclusion in university events and publications has become a small but important step in increasing the visibility of the First Nations peoples that have lived and continue to live in this area. As the act of land acknowledgment becomes more routine, the danger is that, with time, it may begin to lose its impact. How then might we avoid turning land acknowledgment into a rote task that undermines the gravity of its intent?

Consider the land acknowledgment to be the first stepping stone on a path to becoming better allies as non-Natives. In order to truly, meaningfully engage with it, we must continue to educate ourselves on First Nations history and cultures, engage with First Nations stories in historical and modern contexts, and apply this knowledge in actionable tasks that honor First Nations people. In this post, we’ve compiled a list of suggested next steps you might take and resources to explore as you build on the land acknowledgment.

Next Steps: Forming A Foundational Knowledge of First Nations History

As non-Natives, it is necessary that we educate ourselves on the history of Indigenous peoples in the Americas. First, if you haven’t already, we encourage you to familiarize yourself with the UW–Green Bay Land Acknowledgment. Challenge yourself to go beyond simply reading the statement, and instead take the time to learn the names of the First Nations communities that were and continue to be affected by colonialism in Wisconsin.

We must also understand that First Nations’ connection to the land goes much deeper than the physical space—there also is profound ancestral and spiritual significance. Gregory Cajete, Director of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico, eloquently explains: “It is this place that holds our memories and the bones of our people… this is the place that made us.” The land acknowledgement is as much about the connection between people and land as it is about their geography.

Going further, contemplate the Doctrine of Discovery, a principle of international law created by the Pope in the 15th century that was used to justify the dehumanization of the original inhabitants of the Americas and rationalize the violence committed against those peoples by European colonizers. Note how the ramifications of this philosophy are still seen and felt in our nation’s educational, legal, and economic systems today.

As you educate yourself on Indigenous history, we encourage you to engage with the session recording from the land acknowledgment session at the Instructional Development Institute this year. Among other resources, this presentation contains a collection of historical maps that illustrate the effects of colonization on the distribution, population, and land occupancy of First Nation peoples. Additionally, The Ways has a map of treaty lands, tribal lands, and Native populations in Wisconsin and surrounding regions, along with some important background information on the displacement of various Native peoples. On a global scale, Native Land Digital has created an extensive, interactive world map to explore the geographic approximations of Indigenous territories, languages, and treaties.

Going Deeper: Actively Engaging with First Nations Stories

For those of us who are non-Native, it is also our role to listen to the stories of First Nations peoples and learn from them. The Ways, mentioned in the previous section, is an online publication by PBS Wisconsin Education which promotes stories about contemporary First Nations cultures and languages. Likewise, Wisconsin First Nations is a fantastic collection of teaching resources on American Indian studies in Wisconsin, created as a collaboration between the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, PBS Wisconsin, UW-Madison’s School of Education.

Consider also investigating the university’s First Nations Studies Library Guide for a selection of books, websites, databases, and films both for use in the classroom and your own personal education. One recommended title to check out or purchase is Indian Nations of Wisconsin by Patty Loew, a comprehensive text on the struggles and perseverance of the Tribal Nations of Wisconsin. J P Leary, one of our own faculty members in the First Nation Studies program, authored one of the book’s two forwards.

Application: Respectively Honoring First Nations People

Expand the sections below for strategies for building upon the land acknowledgement to honor First Nations.

Did you know that our university has an Education Center for First Nations Studies, located in Wood Hall 410? Besides providing an overview of the First Nation Studies (FNS) programs at UWGB, you will also find resources on the languages, educational philosophies, teachings, and cultures of some of Wisconsin’s First Nations communities. When you have the chance, introduce yourself to some of our FNS faculty and staff, as well as the tribal Elders that partner with our FNS program. Be receptive to opportunities to collaborate and reach out to them if you have ideas.

Beyond that, think about how you might engage with our Indigenous communities outside of our university. Perhaps there are faculty at a Tribal College or University that would be interested in partnering in collaborative research or program development in your field—the College of Menominee Nation, for example, has a campus right in Green Bay. You might consider reaching out to other First Nations organizations and nonprofits in our community as well. Our Education Center for First Nation Studies is here as resource if you need guidance on where to look.

Another way to be an ally is to engage in events and programs that honor the First Nations of Wisconsin and further public education on their cultures and histories. For starters, try celebrating Indigenous People’s Day on October 12 and encourage your students to do the same. Last year as a part of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the university released a short video where several students and faculty share what Indigenous People’s Day means to them. We also honored our First Nations by installing a land acknowledgment display in the Student Union, which showcases the flags of each Tribal Nation and a plaque with our university’s land acknowledgment statement.

You can also remind your students that November is Native American Heritage Month. Often the university and larger Green Bay area will have events during this month for students, faculty, and general community members that would be worth checking out.

Additionally, some of the faculty in the First Nation Studies program are partnering with CATL to bring you a series of events centered on supporting our First Nations students. Be on the lookout for more information about our upcoming reading group for Beyond the Asterisk, a showing of a FNS student film later this spring semester, and a larger workshop in the works for Fall 2021.

It is important that land acknowledgment is not an afterthought, but a meaningful part of your pedagogy as well. Perhaps include a short personal statement before the UWGB Land Acknowledgment in your syllabus in which you explain what it is and why you feel it’s important to include. If your class meets synchronously, consider making space on the first day of class to verbally honor the land acknowledgment as well. One suggestion by Dr. Carol Cornelius, one of our resident Elders, is to challenge ourselves as instructors to learn something new about one of the twelve First Nations of Wisconsin each semester. Then, when you include the land acknowledgment in your syllabus or discuss it in your course, you can make it more personal by highlighting that specific people’s individual culture and history.

Conclusion: Continuing the Conversation

It would be impossible to compile a definitive list of resources and actionable tasks to build on the land acknowledgment, so see this blog post as just the beginning. As you explore and reflect on these resources, we encourage you once again to utilize our campus’s Education Center for First Nations Studies, including their curated, continuously evolving collection of materials by and about First Nations peoples. They also sponsor Elder hours, held via Zoom this semester, in which students, staff, and faculty can drop in and talk with Napos, a Menominee tribal elder and our Oral Scholar in Residence. Do you have other ideas for ways you might continue engaging with the land acknowledgment and the histories, cultures, and peoples of Wisconsin’s First Nations? Let us know in the comments below, or by emailing catl@uwgb.edu.


About Crystal Lepscier

Portrait of Crystal LepscierCrystal Lepscier (Little Shell/Menominee/Stockbridge-Munsee) is the First Nations Student Success Coordinator and an Associate Lecturer for the First Nations Studies program here at UW–Green Bay. As a student success coordinator, Crystal works to build partnerships with Wisconsin First Nations communities in order to increase UWGB’s recruitment and retention of First Nations students, provides those students with additional support through academic advisement and counseling, and contributes to programming on First Nations history and cultures. Crystal is also currently pursuing her EdD in First Nations Education at UWGB and will be among the first cohort of students to graduate from the program in 2022.

Elder Hours With Napos

The Education Center for First Nations Studies is pleased to announce that the Oral Scholar in Residence is continuing Elder hours via Zoom (details below).

Students and staff can visit with Napos (Menominee tribal elder) starting Monday, February 8, 2021. Napos will meet with all visitors on Mondays and Wednesdays from 12 Noon – 2:00 PM CST and 3:45-4:45 PM CST, all semester long.

All students, staff, and community members are welcome to drop in (no appointment needed) and do not need to stay the entire period.

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