“Sometimes people feel intimidated if they have never attended a pow wow before, but please be assured that the dancers and singers want people to come and enjoy this small snippet into Native culture.”
For only the second year, Indigenous Peoples’ Day will be marked as an officially recognized holiday in the United States. In his 2021 proclamation, President Joe Biden noted how generations of federal policies “systematically sought to assimilate and displace Native people and eradicate Native cultures.” Now, Biden said, “We recognize Indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society.”
There are many ways that Indigenous Peoples’ Day can be commemorated in Wisconsin. One of the largest, most colorful celebrations will take place on Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 7-8) at East Gate Hall in Wausau’s Marathon Park. The Central Wisconsin Indigenous Peoples’ Day Pow Wow includes a dozen drummers, 200 dancers, and craft and food vendors, according to event organizer Tricia Zunker.
“Sometimes people feel intimidated if they have never attended a pow wow before,” Zunker said, “but please be assured that the dancers and singers want people to come and enjoy this small snippet into Native culture.”
Here are five other ways you can take time to acknowledge and celebrate Native culture in Wisconsin.
Learn the History and Lift Indigenous Voices
The history of Wisconsin’s Native Peoples is often left untold or their stories get twisted or pushed to a secondary position. You can host a book club to feature indigenous authors. If a book club doesn’t work for you, read independently and share books with others.
You can find historical nonfiction and fictional pieces that showcase the history, cultures, and experiences of Wisconsin’s Native American tribes. Wisconsin recognizes and honors 11 sovereign nations. Consider starting with Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal by Patty Loew. (Many will recall her as the longtime anchor of “Weekend” on Wisconsin Public Television.) In her volume, Loew, a member of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Ojibwe, offers compact tribal histories of seven Wisconsin tribes. It includes oral tradition, recorded words, interviews, and tribal newspapers. Additionally, historians and elders from each indigenous community participated in the development of the book.
Connect with the experience of today’s Native communities in Wisconsin by reading How to Be an Indian in the 21st Century by Oneida author and poet Louis V. Clark III (Two Shoes). The author offers a personal, sometimes funny account of growing up Native in Wisconsin—touching on subjects such as bullying, racism, and becoming a Green Bay Packers fan.
Bonus: Check out this book list from First Nations that offers book lists for K-12 students to learn about American Indian Studies in Wisconsin.
Support Indigenous Craftsmanship
Honoring Wisconsin’s Indigenous communities can happen all year round; you don’t need to wait until the October holiday. Throughout the year, you can find art shows, craft fairs, and other events that welcome and feature the works of Native American Tribes in Wisconsin.
Also, your Wisconsin community might have indigenous-owned art galleries, jewelry stores, craft shops, and more. Support these artists and crafters on Indigenous Peoples’ Day and throughout the year. Look for ways to treat yourself or buy gifts for others. In addition to jewelry, you can find handwoven baskets, beaded goods, textiles, and more.
The Little Eagle Arts Foundation (LEAF) near Baraboo is a great resource to engage with the Native American art community in Wisconsin. This nonprofit organization holds several events throughout the year to preserve and promote indigenous art. If you struggle to find a way to buy Wisconsin Native arts and crafts, head to a nearby reservation. Many reservations in Wisconsin have gift shops where you can also find gorgeous and authentic arts and crafts.
Donate to Nonprofits that Support Wisconsin Indigenous Groups
Mentioned above, LEAF is one of many nonprofits in the state that support Wisconsin’s Native Tribes. Your donations to LEAF help support Native art installations and other projects that promote and preserve art from Wisconsin’s tribal nations.
Here are some other nonprofits where your donations help Wisconsin’s Native communities:
- Native American Tourism of Wisconsin (NATOW) promotes tribal tourism and economic development, helping to create employment and revenue for tribes and their members.
- Wisconsin Indian Education Association (WIEA) focuses on the mission to create and improve education for Wisconsin’s Native communities and increase their political and economic visibility in the state.
- Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council (GLITC) includes members from all of Wisconsin’s tribes and works on various projects involving education, health, and economic development.
Help Fund Mental Health Services for Wisconsin’s Indigenous Communities
Mental health challenges have been increasing over the years, especially in the wake of the pandemic. However, indigenous communities have long faced far more mental health struggles, especially among their youth, who have the highest suicide rate of any population in the US. Getting the right help is difficult because treatment programs that do not account for cultural and spiritual differences can make things worse.
You can honor Wisconsin’s Native tribes by donating to organizations that help provide free mental health services to their members or to tribes who are working to improve mental health services on their reservations. One such group is HIR Wellness, located on the Wgema Campus in Milwaukee. The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin also has a Wellness Center in Gresham.
Learn About Wisconsin’s Tribal Lands
The largest concentration of Indigenous tribes east of the Mississippi River is in Wisconsin, so you can honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Wisconsin by learning about the tribal lands. Wisconsin First Nations is your go-to resource for introductory information about tribal lands, regardless of your age. Once you learn the history of the tribal lands in your area and throughout the state, you will be inspired to visit. You can dig deeper into each reservation by visiting during a special event and stopping in a handful of Tribal museums you can find on Wisconsin reservations.
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