Education and Sustainability in the Upper Midwest and Beyond: (Im)migration and Indigeneity Symposium Recap

In early October, we welcomed artists, culture workers, musicians, and scholars from around the Upper Midwest as well as three scholars, Elisabeth Utsi Gaup, Máret Hætta, and Anne Lindblom, from Sámi allaskuvla [Sámi University of Applied Sciences] to the Education and Sustainability in the Upper Midwest and Beyond: (Im)migration and Indigeneity symposium.

Part of our Folklife and Education Community of Practice, activities and presentations focused on ways in which sustainability (cultural, linguistic, environmental, etc.) can be integrated into educational settings and how support for various forms of sustainability can be cultivated and encouraged in local communities among people of all ages. Rather than sit inside on a beautiful fall day, we spent our first day outside.

We wandered along the shore of Lake Wingra hearing from teachers, scientists, and folklorists. Mark Wagler and Jim Lorman reminded us all of the importance of local, place-based education as they explained the ways in which Lake Wingra could itself be a classroom where students and teachers and parents all could be encouraged to find their discipline of delight.

Jim Lorman speaks to symposium attendees. Photo credit: Carrie Danielson

We ate lunch from Taste of Ukraine and were joined by Laura Red Eagle and Dr. Monica Macaulay, both of whom spoke to the challenges and opportunities of language revitalization in Indigenous communities.

We met with Ho-Chunk Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Bill Quackenbush on campus at the new Ho-Chunk Clan Circle. Quackenbush helped us better understand the long history of Ho-Chunk people here in the region, and also discussed ongoing collaborative efforts between the Ho-Chunk nation and the University. In addition, and especially exciting for many of the education professionals in the group, he introduced (and gifted everyone a copy!) us to “Hocąk wiz̆uz̆uk korokoro ra hokurus hire gi [The Ho-Chunk courting flute or La flauta de cortejo Ho-Chunk]. This quadrilingual book (Ho-Chunk, Spanish, English, and illustrations) was the result of a collaborative effort between Quackenbush and dual-language immersion 3rd grade students at Lincoln Elementary School.

From left to right, Máret Hætta, Elisabeth Utsi Gaup, and Bill Quackenbush in front of the Ho-Chunk Clan Circle. Photo credit: Carrie Danielson.

We toured Allen Centennial Garden where Dr. Reba Luiken discussed the many ways that the garden is a place of learning for elementary-aged students to college-aged students to community members at all stages of life. Allen Centennial Garden continues to honor and reflect the many different immigrant and Indigenous communities in the state, this is especially obvious in the kitchen garden, where plants important to the foodways traditions of various immigrant and Indigenous communities are planted and eventually harvested.

Erika Suo and Anna Rue at Allen Centennial Garden. Photo credit: Carrie Danielson

Our first day outside allowed us to spend time together walking and talking and listening and learning. It allowed us to think deeply about the intersections of place and immigration and Indigeneity. It allowed us to see firsthand how place-based education can be used to connect people with their surroundings and remind everyone that remarkable things take place where you are, not just somewhere else!

Day two began outdoors as well, this time with the UW–Madison First Nations Cultural Landscape Tour. From Memorial Union to Bascom Hill to Observatory Hill, Omar Poler asked that we reflect on what is here now, what was here before us, and what will be left when we are gone. It was a fitting start to a day that would be spent indoors with presentations Lyz Jaakola (Ojibwe-Finnish musician and teacher) and Liesl Chatman (spoon carver, kolroser, and teacher) as well as our Sámi guests.

Lyz Jaakola, joined by her daughter, discussed her experiences as a musician working to sustain, revitalize, and even adapt musical traditions within and across cultural lines. Mixing songs with stories, Jaakola’s work is a powerful reminder of the importance of music as a way to create community and sustain cultural and traditional knowledges.

Liz Jaakola performs for symposium attendees. Photo credit: Carrie Danielson

Liesl Chatman dumped dozens of carved wooden spoons on the floor, handed them out to attendees and challenged everyone to take in and then describe out the spoon they held in their hands. And she challenged everyone to listen intently and intensely to those who were speaking.

Elisabeth Utsi Gaup, Máret Hætta, and Anne Lindblom began with a join and then presented on their work at Sámi allaskuvla focusing on the intersections of Indigeneity with a variety of issues, from environmental and cultural sustainability to disability rights. Their work is an important reminder about the role of traditional knowledge in various aspects of education and that traditional knowledge is crucial to ongoing decolonization efforts around the world.

From left to right, Anne Lindblom, Máret Hætta, and Elisabeth Utsi Gaup present at the symposium. Photo credit: Carrie Danielson.

By combining formal presentations with outdoor activities, we were able to experience first-hand how both academic and community-based professionals here in the Upper Midwest and in Sápmi are approaching the challenges of making education local, culturally responsive, and meaningful. With so many amazing presenters and exciting ideas, we are sure that nearly everyone walked away with a new idea, a new approach, or a new understanding of a different perspective. We are so grateful to everyone who played such an important role in this weekend event and for all the ways they enriched the activities and events with presentations, reflections, questions, conversations, generosity, openness, and conviviality.