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"Wisconsin Dells Events" Book Feature

This book feature by Anna Krejci appeared in the newspaper "Wisconsin Dells Events"

Author delivers Native American text to 4th graders

Fourth-graders in the Wisconsin Dells School District will perhaps see Native Americans in a new light once they begin reading a textbook entitled "Native People of Wisconsin" written by Wisconsin Public Television "In Wisconsin" host Patty Loew.

Loew, a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, visited each of the district's three elementary schools last week to present the book she authored, first published in 2003 by the Wisconsin State Historical Society. Loew was accompanied by representatives of the Ho-Chunk Nation that donated 150 copies of the book, valued at more than $2,000, to the district. The district's Native American Student Services Coordinator Lance Tallmadge sought the book for students' education and the donation from the tribe.

Tallmadge said he thinks the district's curriculum on Native Americans is lacking in studies of local, Wisconsin tribes, and the new book will help correct it.

"There's a lot of great teachers in this district that over the years have included Native cultures into their classrooms, but this will help to really focus on the Native tribes of Wisconsin," Tallmadge said.

The book recounts the history of the state's tribes: the Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Ojibwe, Oneida, Mohican, Stockbridge-Munsee and the Brothertown. It also provides a glimpse into how Native youth are living today by providing personal testimonies.

"I feel a real obligation to make sure the students in the Dells here are receiving accurate information about Native peoples. Particularly, I want to make sure the district is in compliance with Act 31 which mandates that the tribal history, treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, (and) culture of all Native tribes here in Wisconsin are taught at two levels in the elementary and once at the high school level," Tallmadge said.

Ensuring the district has textbooks on Native Americans is part of fulfilling that obligation. "This is the most concise curriculum that's out there that helps schools meet that mandate of Act 31," he said.

Loew said her book is unique and better than some of the texts her own children showed her. Those materials, which were substandard in her opinion, were her motivation for dedicating years of research to writing the book. She said other texts contained word finds with the names of perhaps 10 tribes when Loew said more than 500 tribes live in the United States. Some books showed Native Americans wearing 19th century buckskins, clothing from the wrong period, at Christopher Columbus' arrival to the Americas in 1492, she said. Teepees were described as "upside down ice cream cones," she noted.

"This is dreadful. This is awful," she said. "Somebody needs to write a decent social studies textbook for kids. Nobody wrote it so I said, heck, I'll write one," Loew said.

In researching her book she reviewed the written accounts from explorers and figures like Charles Langlade and Catholic missionaries, and visited members of each tribe, recording their oral histories.

"I looked at other sources, indigenous sources first, and then looked at whether the written documents corroborated what I was learning in Indian Country," she said.

Loew said her book deals with both uplifting and not-so-flattering elements of Native history. Tribes fought among themselves for resources, but also demonstrated perseverance.

What Loew said is uplifting about Native history is "the resilience of the Native people here who put their own fingerprints on the landscape and lived with it in a sustainable way and adapted to incredible changes and had a completely different way of life imposed on them," she said.

Challenges they faced included being shipped off to boarding schools, learning English, being deprived of hunting and fishing land, disease and health problems introduced by new people and different living conditions. "Somehow the Native people in the state managed to adapt to that and survive," Loew said.

She wants education on Native Americans to touch on their present-day accomplishments. Tribes are protecting their treaty rights, reconstructing communities, supporting the arts and investing in the environment, she said. Tribes are also contributors to economies, she added.

Loew and Tallmadge indicated that the study of Native Americans should look at them in the present, and not just as they were in the past. "Eventually I would like to see that Native culture is infused across the curriculum," Tallmadge said.

"So much of Eurocentric thinking is to put the studies of Native peoples into social studies, and that's kind of where it gets locked in," he said. ". ... Then its in kind of a historical context and not the contemporary view of Native people." Instead Native American authors should be studied in English class, Tallmadge said.

The district has brought the study of Native American culture into other disciplines. Last year students studied the atlatl, a spear-throwing device, during a physical education class.

Linda Bruun, the district's director of curriculum and instruction, said Native American cultures are incorporated in lessons from kindergarten to 12th grade, but in the fourth grade students' lessons focus on Native Americans in Wisconsin. In fifth and seventh grades, and at the high school, students study Native Americans in U.S. history and present day. In sixth grade students study Native peoples from Central and South America.

"The art, music and physical education departments incorporate music from a variety of cultures including Native American cultures," Bruun wrote in an e-mail to the Wisconsin Dells Events.

High School Spanish classes also teach cultures of Native peoples in Latin American countries, and the high school offers a Ho-Chunk language class, she added.

Bruun acknowledged that Loew's book is unique because it tells the history of Native peoples from their perspective.

Lake Delton Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Amy Laundrie said her class would start reading from the new text immediately.

"So many of the children in this classroom are Ho-Chunk, and it brings history alive to them and makes it clear to the rest of us too that this isn't just ... Natives riding on horseback. There's still Natives in our society today, and we're working together and living side by side. So we need to learn about their ways as well," Laundrie said.

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