As many of us take a break from our busy lives to celebrate our loved ones and our blessings during the Thanksgiving holiday, please remember that Thanksgiving has a very different meaning for many people in our state and our country.
For many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is another harsh reminder of the horrible effects colonization has had on our people—effects that linger today in the form of alarming racial disparities: high poverty rates, high domestic abuse rates, poor health, low graduation rates, and so on.
In order for Wisconsin and Native communities to move forward and overcome the obstacles that are preventing Native people from succeeding—and in many cases cutting the lives of Native people too short—there must be concerted efforts by both Native communities and non-Native communities to address these barriers.
One of the first steps in this process is teaching accurate history about our country’s Indigenous people and our government’s efforts to kill, colonize, and assimilate Native people. There must also be efforts to provide all children in our state with the opportunity to learn and better understand the diverse and rich Native American cultures that exist in the state and recognize the cultural and economic contributions tribes have made and continue to make.
There seems to be no time more fitting than now to have these important conversations and teach these important lessons. After all, November is Native American Heritage Month. And while we may have a lot of work ahead of us to improve conditions for Native people—I wholeheartedly welcome and applaud the efforts of youth and schools across the state to be more inclusive, learn more about Wisconsin’s Native people, and advocate for Native Americans.
- The Cumberland Schools District, which resides on Ojibwe land and borders one of the St. Croix Chippewa reservations recently welcomed the Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Immersion School to learn about Ojibwe culture and participate in cultural activities (watch cute kids round dance!).
- Students from the Indian Community School in Milwaukee advocated at the State Capitol for a bill to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day.
- The Madison West High School Native American Student Association recently released a video they co-produced about the harm caused by Native American mascots.
- The Department of Public Instruction, Wisconsin Public Television, and the University of Wisconsin-School of Education have collaborated to create Wisconsin First Nations, a collection of resources to help educators and others teach accurate and authentic lessons about American Indian Nations of Wisconsin.
I hope we see more initiatives like this happening throughout our state and in our schools—and not just during the month of November. Understanding our history and each other is an important step in making our state more equitable.