In 1983, the people of Wisconsin were largely unprepared for the implications of the Voight Decision, the federal court decision which affirmed the reserved rights of the Lake Superior Bands of Chippewa. The curriculum in Wisconsin's public schools had included very little about the history, culture, or tribal sovereignty of the other federally-recognized tribes and bands in the state, and until recently, adequate instructional resources were largely unavailable. This lack of information led to a lack of understanding, and the societal problems which arose illustrated the need for accurate, authentic information about American Indians. In 1989, the Wisconsin State Legislature acted to address this situation by requiring all public schools to provide instruction about the histories, cultures, and tribal sovereignty of the federally-recognized tribes and bands in the state. These requirements were designed to provide Wisconsin's students with instruction in American Indian Studies because of its academic appropriateness and its potential to serve as a positive force with which to combat misunderstanding and social unrest.
The 1989-1991 biennial budget, 1989 Act 31, instituted a set of instructional requirements related to American Indians and broader themes of human diversity. It also established the American Indian Studies Program within the Department of Public Instruction to support public school districts' efforts to design and implement appropriate instructional efforts in American Indian Studies as required by state law. The law requires all public schools to provide instruction in the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the federally-recognized tribes and bands in the state. Related statutes deal with teacher education, education in human relations, and the use of appropriate instructional materials. Since the dissolution of the American Indian Language and Culture Education Board in 1997, the American Indian Studies Program has also been assigned primary responsibility for American Indian Language and Culture Education Programs. The program also addresses related concerns regarding the education of American Indian students in the public schools. Program staff currently consists of one full-time consultant and one part-time program assistant.
PLAN OF ACTION
The primary roles of the American Indian Studies (AIS) staff include providing information, training, and technical assistance to districts; developing or acquiring resources and materials to facilitate quality instruction; and serving as the DPI liaison to tribal communities and organizations statewide. Program staff frequently present at local, regional, and statewide conferences, trainings and inservices, and organize an annual American Indian Studies Summer Institute. To maximize effectiveness, staff frequently collaborate with tribes, CESAs, and school districts to establish ongoing collaborative relationships.
The program's activities build teachers' capacity to serve students in Wisconsin's schools and support efforts to address long-held stereotypes, omissions, and inaccuracies concerning American Indians. This instruction enables students to become better informed about the rich heritage of the federally-recognized tribes and bands residing in the state. It also fosters the ability to learn about, experience, understand, and appreciate another culture -- an important skill to be successful, contributing members of society in a changing world.