Ho Chunk graduate students promote indigenous voices in their studies – 71Bait

April 18, 2022

Of Ila Schrecker

Four Ho Chunk students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison work to elevate the voices and experiences of Native Americans and make academic and cultural spaces more accessible and beneficial to the Ho Chunk community.

Adrienne Thunder is a PhD student in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.

All four are PhDs: Kendra Greendeer in art history; Molli Pauliot in Anthropology: Brenda Owen in Nursing; and Adrienne Thunder in (the School of Education) Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. They reflected on their efforts in several recent interviews.

Their studies lie in vastly different areas, but their goals are similar: to make their spaces—whether museums, schools, or hospitals—more inclusive and receptive to Ho-Chunk and other indigenous people, as well as to preserve Ho-Chunk culture and history. UW-Madison occupies the Ho Chunk ancestral lands that the tribe had to cede in an 1832 treaty.

“My career began with a quest to make museum environments more accessible to Native Americans and to make collections easier for Native people to access,” said Greendeer, whose work in art history focuses on contemporary women Native American artists.

After earning her master’s degree, Greendeer worked at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC.

“It was incredibly exciting,” Greendeer said, “but at the same time, I really saw the need for more Aboriginal people to be in curating positions to really tell Aboriginal stories.”

Narratives can be redesigned by changing who tells the stories of Ho Chunk history, she said.

Pauliot’s work in anthropology includes work with indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes region. She explores the effects of the emerald ash borer, a beetle that has diseased and killed many ash trees, on ho-chunk ash basket weavers, and its intersection with technology.

Pauliot received her bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in social work. She emphasized the importance of web culture in her work with clients.

“It instilled a lot more self-esteem, pride, connectedness and a community,” Pauliot said, “it was a component that has helped heal some of the social issues and issues that we have.”

Pauliot shared her vision and focus for her work. “My ultimate goal is to create programs that tell the story of Ho-Chunk in a way that is seen as a strength,” said Pauliot. “I have coordinated events with the university to develop more curricula for the university to access.”

In addition to the necessary curriculum changes to reflect Ho-Chunk’s history, Pauliot identified the need for a new research center.

“The ideal would be if we had a Native American or Native American research center and focused on this Great Lakes region,” Pauliot said, “we need a home where the faculty is involved and teaching… (we need a place where) the research, the museum community, and the artifacts can be together.”

Both Greendeer and Pauliot mentioned the challenges they encountered doing this work at UW.

“It might be fair to say that the only changes (in Aboriginal labor) I witnessed on campus were due to Aboriginal labor,” Greendeer said, “even the raising of the flag or land recognition… they were aborigines doing this work.”

Pauliot played a significant role in the historical premiere Hoisting of the flag of the Ho-Chunk Nation via Bascom Hall in November 2021.

“The raising of the flag drew national attention,” Pauliot said, “to see something different happening at the university was huge.”

Pauliot emphasized the importance of teaching and re-teaching Ho-Chunk history, such as acknowledging that UW-Madison land was once Ho-Chunk territory.

“The university is a land-based institution, so it’s a land grab,” Pauliot said, “but that’s not really what’s being taught about the land grant … it’s the history that nobody really wants to talk about.”

Despite this, Pauliot spoke about why she is doing this work and continues to do this work.

“Hopefully younger women will come and see us and know that they can too,” she said. “It takes personal strength to go ahead and complete a PhD program. But as an Indigenous woman it takes more strength because you have to overcome all those barriers to get where you are.”

Thunder, the current department head of Hoocąk Waaziija Haci, the language department of the Ho-Chunk Nation, became interested in her degree program during graduate school when she realized she wanted to support students in their own educational journey.

“I’ve been an explorer my entire academic life,” Thunder said, “I love learning and education.”

After completing grad school and other positions, Thunder worked at the Cross-College Advising Service at UW-Madison. She soon decided that she wanted to focus her work more on local students.

Similarly, Owen’s Ho-Chunk background contributed to and inspired her work as a nurse practitioner.

“During my (nursing) college, I learned about every system of the body and thought about my own family,” said Owen, who also earned a certificate in American Indian Studies. “My instructors have always encouraged me to look at how certain body system disorders were affecting my ho-chunk family in particular.”

Working closely with Indigenous students at UW-Madison, Thunder became involved in other organizations involved in higher education and found that there were not many Indigenous people in higher education and most were spread across different organizations. “I went around to everyone and started having conversations with these people in different groups to pull it all together,” Thunder said.

Thunder realized that to bring about broader change, she needed to be in a more administrative position. That way, she would be included in critical conversations and bigger decisions. Thunder also wanted to reconnect with their community and recognized the challenges the two goals posed.

“As I progressed in my career, I became more distant from student services and from my own community, which really bothered me,” she said.

Much of Thunder’s work focuses on transforming education to make it more beneficial and accessible to native students. Both her paternal and maternal grandparents were sent there Indian boarding schools, which attempted to eradicate the indigenous languages ​​and cultures of native peoples and nations in order to “assimilate” them into the mainstream culture of the United States. This story colors the Ho Chunk experience with education.

“What can we do to reshape education so that it serves our purposes and reflects our values ​​and beliefs, rather than weakening us or making us afraid to participate in education in general?” Donner said.

In both Thunder’s and Owen’s work, the need for representation and preservation remains central. Owen remarked, “I think (representation) is very important, especially for our youth.”

“It’s nice to see more local students in the nursing school and hear their stories as well,” said Owen.

Thunder also spoke about the changes she’s seen at UW-Madison, and the lack thereof: “I think some of the longer-term and more entrenched issues are probably still there,” she said, “but I think there’s been a lot of growth … [including] Having conversations about privilege, race or gender. I’m really glad that a lot of these conversations are happening.”

This story originally appeared on news.wisc.edu.

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