Bringing American Indian stories to life in classrooms

Twelve American Indian nations call Wisconsin home. Each has its own customs, its own identity, its own story.

A new website, WisconsinAct31.org, is helping educators tell those stories to students from kindergarten through high school. Wisconsin Act 31 is the term for the five state statutes that require schools to teach American Indian Studies throughout a student’s career and maintain instructional materials that appropriately reflect diverse cultures.

The site gives an online home to materials that will start classroom conversations through questions such as: How long have humans lived here? On whose ancestral lands do you live? Who are your contemporary tribal neighbors today?

“People have very little knowledge about who native people are today. We don’t understand the history, the complexity of the diversity within Indian nations,” says Aaron Bird Bear, the American Indian Curriculum Services coordinator supporting the School of Education‘s integration of American Indian Studies content into teacher education programs.

Although legislators passed Act 31 more than a quarter century ago, it has been largely unfunded and hasn’t been widely implemented. UW-Madison curriculum and instruction Professor Simone Schweber and Bird Bear secured backing from UW-Madison’s Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment to design and produce the website, which is a collaboration project between eight partners.

“There isn’t one native identity,” says Bird Bear, who is also interim assistant dean for student diversity programs in the School of Education. “Act 31 is an invitation to get to know the deep human story of the western Great Lakes. It helps us understand our neighbors. It helps us understand our own shared history.”