WIEA 2012: Weaving Our Way to a Stronger Future
(Written by Tracy Pecore )
After one year of planning, the Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s (WIEA) annual conference took place on April 4-5, 2012 at Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells Hotel and Convention Center.
The Ho-Chunk Nation was one of the main sponsors for this year’s conference and lead by one of our very own Ho-Chunk tribal members who was elected to be on the WIEA board last April, Barbara Mackenzie, who also took on a lot of work to make this year's WIEA conference a success. You did a Great job Barb, and also to all those who also helped (behind the scenes), to make this year’s conference successful. In passing her on the escalators, I asked if she was stressed. The comment was yes, so I immediately said, “Good…then you know you’re doing a good job.”
“Other years, other tribes take the lead, depending on what region hosts it. Regardless of whose turn it is, Ho-Chunk Nation has a history of generosity with its contributions for this conference,” said Mackenzie. Adrienne Thunder, HCN Executive Director of Education also noted that the HCN Legislature provided a generous donation, and the HCN Department of Education provided in-kind support and staff.
With several regions around the state, each region takes a turn hosting the conference. “As a board, we try to spend our money at Native-owned venues as much as possible. This year, the largest Native-owned venue in our region was Ho-Chunk Gaming- Wisconsin Dells,” said Mackenzie.
One extraordinarily helpful organization to WIEA has been CREATE: “Culturally Responsive Education for All: Training and Enhancement.” CREATE is a statewide system-change initiative designed to eradicate the achievement gap amongst diverse student populations and eliminate race as a predicting factor of participation in special education. “Their partnership has assisted WIEA greatly in being able to host a quality conference the past few years by registering many people involved in tribal language and cultural preservation as well as special education,” said Mackenzie. She also noted, “They’ve assisted with transportation, lodging, conference registration and paid for some of the presenters when they can. They also helped recruit some amazing presenters, like Don Thornton—who developed the Hocak language apps for Nintendo DS and iTunes Store in conjunction with our own Hocak Language Division.”
The conference break-out sessions were on a wide variety of interesting topics, affecting students from K-12, Higher Education, Special Education, Early Childhood and other spheres of Education. With over 250 people attending the conference, “I had hoped for more, simply because this conference needs more people to learn about these topics in education,” said Mackenzie. She also said, “Amazingly, even though we expanded the speakers’ time to 90 minutes, many of the comments said that the 90 minutes was still not long enough.”
Many of the WIEA board members were presenters this year. “It was a personal goal, and the planning committee was able to cover the volunteer duties well enough, to be able to afford the board some freedom to enjoy the conference. WIEA members—especially board members, as a general characteristic, are hard-working and high achieving Native professional educators. I wanted everyone to have a great conference experience,” said Mackenzie.
Keynote speakers were Dr. Amy Lonetree and Dr. Michelle Pidgeon, who both offered some fantastic insights into their fields of study. Dr. Lonetree talked about how we need to be active as Native citizens in making sure our perspective is told through educational sources and places like museums. Dr. Pidgeon shared that Indigeneity is reinforced and transmitted by ensuring certain supports, such as family and community structures, are available for Native students.
Special guest, William Mendoza, Deputy Director for the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities, spoke on the educational policy for Native American students and how we need to help Washington D.C. understand the needs of Native students to succeed. “Mr. Mendoza made it clear that he is seeking to help tribes (the “non-powerhouse tribes” – like Navajo Nation) get the support and assistance they need and to do it in as fair and equitable way possible. Given the diversity of tribes served by the Departments of Education and Interior, and their different sets of circumstances, his task is monumental,” said Thunder.
Mendoza asked, “Who has the loudest voice and biggest numbers? How can we create a better place for all of us and be able to address things strategically?” He said, “There are huge issues in Indian Country but we also have huge opportunities. Tribal leaders have the ultimate role to ensure what's prioritized. Tribal leaders have the voice; they have the seat at the head table while others can only go so far. We know our communities best. We need to be communicating those issues, whether it’s locally or through conferences, or writing to the local congressman. Initiatives come and go. Utilize everyone’s talent!”
In closing, Medoza said, “Ask those you trust, what things mean, do your research. Congress won't act unless you push it, and same goes for the President; if he don't hear it from us (midwest/great lakes areas), he'll only hear it from other states. Share our knowledge with them because it’s critical. Without our voice, they can't connect the dots and move forward.”
Barbara Mackenzie would like to thank the many people and organizations that helped make this year’s conference a success. She said, “We appreciate the generous contributions of everyone at Ho-Chunk Gaming—WI Dells Hotel and Convention Center. Everyone did a wonderful job! Special thanks to Brian Decorah, Cindy Lonetree, Joey, Tim, Chef Joseph, Tom Clark, Janice, AV Jon, casino IT and a host of other employees and volunteers who helped make a wonderful conference!”
Next year the conference will be hosted by the central region which includes Price, Taylor, Lincoln, Clark, Marathon, Wood, Portage, Shawano, and Waupaca counties. This means Stockbridge-Munsee, Ho-Chunk—Nekoosa, Neillsville, Wittenberg, Stevens Point and Wausau communities will be hosting. UW-Stevens Point has already committed to assisting next year’s event. More will come on board as their planning committee gets rolling.