BARABOO, Wis. - Honoring Our Past; Creating Our Future was the theme for
this year's Wisconsin Indian Education Conference. The Conference, was held
April 1 - 4 at the Ho-Chunk Casino.
The conference offered workshops, presentations, banquets and entertainment
ranging from musician Michael Jacobs to comedian Charlie Hill. The event
concluded with the Annual WIEA Business meeting.
Keynote speakers for the conference were Richard Williams, president of the
American Indian College Fund and Elizabeth Burmaster, Wisconsin State
Superintendent of Schools. Burmaster spoke about her program designed to
provide quality education to all Indian children in Wisconsin, titled "New
Wisconsin Promise." Dozens of workshops dealt with topics including the No
Child Left Behind program, proficiency and testing, preserving indigenous
languages, culture-based education, the status of Native American Studies
courses, Title IX, Indian mascots, and parents' rights.
The event featured 25 booths and more than 500 participants of all ages.
"Believe it or not, we only had a little under two months to plan this,"
said Conference Coordinator Tim Springer. "I hope that the participants
leave here feeling they learned something about education or met someone
who may help them in the future in educational or personal endeavors."
Speakers addressed the need for change. According to the featured speakers,
one thing that must be changed is the attitudes some Indian parents have
regarding their children's performance in school. Although poverty
significantly affects the majority of these families, the absenteeism and
drop-out rate would decrease should more parents become involved in their
child's everyday lives and school work.
One workshop worth noting was "Cultural Math - Is It Possible?" presented
by Running Horse Livingston, math teacher at the University of
Minnesota-Duluth and Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa tribal
member. Livingston discussed his revolutionary concept of "Wigwametry", a
method of teaching basic geometry to Native students using the wigwam. "The
hemisphere shape of wigwams provides the perfect way to get through to the
students because they recognize it. One of the first things we do is have
them construct a mini-wigwam and from this we instruct them about volume,
surface area, mass, the value of pi, as well as geometrical equations. It
is astonishing how fast they learn. I have had a high success rate with my
students." According to statistics, math is the subject Native American
students have the most difficulty passing.
The event featured movie star glitz, too. Actor Wes Studi was on hand to
wander around, smile, perform and sign autographs. Studi is currently
taking a break from his hectic acting schedule to travel to different
Native American gatherings. "You could say I'm getting to know my roots
again," laughed Studi.
Comedian Charlie Hill also performed, providing countless belly laughs
after the Saturday night banquet. "It's a beautiful thing to see, all these
young kids and scholars together like this," Hill said. Hill considers
himself an activist in guise as a comedian.
Actress DeLanna Studi, star of the "Dreamkeeper" miniseries and the new
Chris Eyre film "Edge of America", performed her nine-character, one person
play "KICK." Studi gave an emotional and provocative performance addressing
the mascot issue. Her portrayal of Native American high-school student
Grace Greene, one of few Natives at the fictional Newman High, proved why
Studi has already won major awards in her short career in Hollywood.
"I would like this play to invoke young people to change these harmful and
damaging stereotypes that go hand-in-hand with sports mascots like the
Redskins, Cleveland Indians, etc." said Studi "How can we be seen as unique
individuals in a world of demeaning racial images and stereotypes?"
Do young people have the power to create change in this world? As
participants and educators departed the conference, the overwhelming
response was yes.