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News & Events

Reflecting on the Indigenous EcoWell Initiative's achievements as it concludes

Close-up of a hand holding a circular beaded medallion, which is mostly white with a colorful growing flower motif.
Paige Skenandore, a former research coordinator for the Indigenous EcoWell Initiative, created a medallion that depicts the initiative’s logo at a 2022 beading event. (Photo by Dakota Mace)

The end of the spring 2024 semester brought the conclusion of the Indigenous EcoWell Initiative after three years of impactful work.

The purpose of the initiative was to connect Native/Indigenous faculty members from the School of Human Ecology with campus partners and First Nations to further collaborations centered on the well-being of children, youth, families and communities.

Civil Society & Community Studies Department Chair and Professor Carolee Dodge Francis served as the initiative’s team leader. Alongside Human Ecology colleagues, she worked to build and engage a community of scholars, practitioners, and undergraduate and graduate students in work focused on the intersections of Indigenous cultures, health, language and community in ways that reflect the needs and aspirations of First Nations communities.

A Native American Indian woman, with light brown curly hair, wearing a royal blue dress with silver beads.
Carolee Dodge Francis, department chair and professor of Civil Society & Community Studies

“The initiative facilitated a diverse range of projects, including creating a curriculum that navigates the delicate balance between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation; healing reflections that fostered well-being; traditional artistry that celebrates Indigenous heritage; and an interactive mapping project that details Indigenous histories and presence in Madison,” says Dodge Francis, who served as the Ecology of Human Well-Being (EcoWell) Professor through spring 2024. The professorship was funded by donor Bill Linton.

One of the initiative’s largest projects was a collaboration with the Center for Design and Material Culture and the Civil Society & Community Studies (CSCS) department to craft a curriculum that would teach design students how to identify and try to avoid cultural appropriation. The curriculum is a response to questions students visiting the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection have had over the years about understanding and avoiding cultural appropriation in their own coursework as well as in the broader design industry. It is intended for both museum audiences and student classroom teaching, along with a pre- and post-workshop evaluation survey. In May 2023, an article authored by several Human Ecology collaborators, “From Cultural Appropriation to Cultural Appreciation at the Center for Design and Material Culture,” was published in Museum magazine.

In 2022, the initiative provided two significant grants to an Indigenous faculty member and Indigenous students. CSCS Assistant Professor Kasey Keeler created Mapping Teejop, a user-friendly, self-guided, digital story map that allows users to explore, in person or virtually, Indigenous histories of the UW campus and nearby areas. It also provided funding for two Indigenous Human Ecology students to engage in mentored participatory research under the guidance of Dodge Francis and included a public beading exhibit and workshop.

A Native woman smiling, wearing a patterned blue and red dress with red beaded earrings.
Kasey Keeler, assistant professor of Civil Society & Community Studies

Numerous grants of $1,000 or less were also allocated to support campus entities (students, faculty, staff, schools/divisions, organizations) in their work to build and engage a community of scholars, practitioners and undergraduate/graduate students who work with, learn from, and honor Indigenous communities in Wisconsin. These included projects like developing a land acknowledgement to honor the ancestral grounds present on UW–Madison’s campus, bringing Indigenous speakers to campus and funding attendance at Indigenous education and leadership conferences.

The initiative provided the ability to create the first CSCS ethnic studies course, “American Indian Communities: Sovereignty, Struggles, and Successes.” It first became available in fall 2021.

“The ability to imagine, implement, and accomplish these amazing range of endeavors for and with Native American people may not have been possible without the generous contribution from Mr. Linton,” Dodge Francis says. “Witnessing the profound impact of these projects fills me with immense joy.”

Through the generosity of donor Bill Linton, faculty at the UW–Madison School of Human Ecology can confront problems facing families and communities and make impactful changes for a lifetime of flourishing. 

The Ecology of Human Well-Being (EcoWell) Professorship is awarded to a member of the school’s faculty whose teaching, research and outreach responsibilities are devoted to understanding and promoting the ecology of well-being — social, emotional, cultural and/or economic.

As of summer 2024, Carolee Dodge Francis held the Leola R. Culver Professorship in Nonprofits and Philanthropy.