The Wisconsin Indian Education Association held an event Aug. 19 in Lac du Flambeau, celebrating Wisconsin Act 31 with a night of education, recognizing treaty rights and tribal sovereignty.
Throughout the evening, the event featured interactive activities, speakers, and a viewing of “Lighting the 7th Fire,” a PBS documentary on the Ojibwe Treaty Rights protests.
At the celebration, the WIEA recognized area teachers and individuals who had supported Wisconsin Act 31 and the incorporation of Wisconsin Indian history, treaties, and tribal sovereignty into public school curriculum.
“These are people that have put in countless hours and countless days and weeks and years of not only cultivating relationships, but oftentimes fighting amongst their own, fighting for Indian people amongst their own people to have these people, have their colleagues and their superiors see the value, not only for Indian people, not only for Indian students, but for all students of Indian education,” WIEA partnership spokesman Brandon Thoms said.
One of the recipients was superintendent of the Lac du Flambeau Public School, Dr. Larry Ouimette.
“Dr. Ouimette has been a huge ally in implementing cultural connections in Lac du Flambeau School, just doing an all-around great job in promoting Native culture and implementing it into the curriculum, and for that we give our great, great acknowledgement and thanks,” Thoms said.
“I feel humbled to be called up here. When Act 31 was introduced, I was a relatively young teacher and it was very difficult to see all the things that were happening on the news and then go back and do a classroom where I was working with kids of many colors and try to explain why adults were acting that way,” Ouimette said. “So, it’s very humbling, and it’s very powerful to hear from the ladies and the gentleman who talked today about going through that experience.”
Thoms also recognized Lakeland Union High School district administrator Rob Way and principal Justin Szews as WIEA Gold Standard acknowledgement recipients.
Thoms commended Way for implementing the Act 31 committee at the high school.
“Now we have our drums singing on the 50-yard line of Homecoming games, of basketball, on the basketball court at halftime or the beginning of the games. That’s what it’s all about. Sharing our cultures,” Thoms said.
“It’s an honor to be here. I graduated from UW-Eau Claire, and I wanted to thank a gentleman from this community, Rick St. Germaine,” Way said. “I had a class studying indigenous people, and he was very instrumental in opening my eyes. It’s just a privilege to be the new superintendent of Lakeland Union High School.”
Other schools recognized were Arbor Vitae-Woodruff Elementary School, North Lakeland Elementary School, and Minocqua Hazelhurst Lake Tomahawk Elementary School.
“They’ve also been a part of this journey as well, I want to acknowledge them,” Thoms said.
While several of the school superintendents received recognition, Thoms also recognized teachers from the area elementary schools and high schools.
“Mr. Bouché, also. Although he’s no longer with LUHS, Mr. Bouché is now a board member in Wausau School District, he was the former principal and superintendent at LUHS, and he was a great ally to us here, and he’s actually part Menominee, so we built on that parallel, that connection,” Thoms said.
Wayne Valliere, Sr., and former tribal council president and current Vilas County supervisor Tom Maulson also received WIEA Gold Standard Acknowledgements.
“This is all worth it, right here,” Maulson said. “I wanna say chi-miigwech to all the schools, all the people that took part. Like I said, we only scratched the surface of treaty rights. We didn’t really tell all of the stories. There isn’t enough time in the day or the night to make it happen. You had to be there. I wanna say chi-miigwech and thank you for listening.”
Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected]