Assistant Dean Aaron Bird Bear explains in this video the importance of teaching the requirements of Wisconsin Education Act 31. He tells how “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 understated our own shared history and the complicated human relations of the Great Lakes.”

When Bird Bear participates in University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education courses to support pre-service educators in teaching about the First Nations of Wisconsin, he connects with a challenge they will likely experience – teaching about nations with languages different than their own.

Bird Bear’s ancestors and contemporary First Nation, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, call the central plains of the continent home. He knows some teachers are wary of making missteps when teaching the First Nations of Wisconsin. Therefore, Bird Bear reminds teachers that if they are confident in teaching topics like the Italian Renaissance, then they can confidently teach the individual First Nations of Wisconsin using the many excellent print and digital resources available.

After attending the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s American Indian Studies Summer Institute, Bird Bear partnered with colleagues to create basic tools to assist pre-service teachers and non-resident graduate assistants in the teacher education programs in better understanding the expectations and resources for teaching the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the First Nations of Wisconsin. These partnerships led to a broad, collaborative effort to create digital media and a website illuminating resources available to all pre-service and in-service teachers in Wisconsin, wisconsinfirstnations.org.

Bird Bear came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2000 to support Native American students at the university, and in 2009, Bird Bear joined the School of Education. He researched learning outcomes for first-year college students, and he noticed an intersection of how a more culturally-relevant university for Native American students addressed the essential learning goals for all new students. In 2011, the university began featuring Native American speakers at the Chancellor’s Convocation for new students, and it developed a new residence hall in collaboration with the Ho-Chunk Nation, Dejope Residence Hall, which opened in 2012.

For the first time, in 2017, all first-year students participating in the Student Orientation Advising and Registration Program went on campus tours that taught the 12,000-year human story of the land that would become the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 2015, Bird Bear won the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Service to the University.

Bird Bear continues to encourage all pre-service and in-service teachers to seek collaborations with First Nations especially through events like the American Indian Studies Summer Institute and the Wisconsin Indian Education Association Annual Conference.

Contributed by Aaron Bird Bear