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News & Events

Wisconsin's First Indigenous Peoples Day: Celebrate with SoHE

Image: Detail of textiles featured in the “Intersections” exhibit in the Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery. Photo by Dakota Mace.

Last week, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, along with Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, officially declared the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day across the state, rather than the historically recognized Columbus Day.

At the School of Human Ecology, we warmly invite our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the broader community to celebrate this momentous occasion. Our new cluster hire of Indigenous faculty, Drs. Kasey Keeler, Brian McInnes, Mariaelena Huambachano, and (joining January 2020) Carolee Dodge Francis, have collected the following resources to help people understand the significance of this change as well as opportunities within and beyond SoHE to celebrate and learn more. View and print a handout for SoHE students.

Key Facts about Indigenous Peoples Day

Indigenous Peoples Day is a means of recognizing and honoring American Indian people while acknowledging and moving away from the celebration of colonialism, violence, and genocide associated with the arrival of Italian sailor Christopher Columbus (sailing under the Spanish Crown) and other European colonizers.

Indigenous Peoples Day represents more than just a name change or alternative; it is a means of opening a new conversation and beginning to correct the U.S. historical narrative.

Columbus Day, in fact, was first celebrated in 1892 under President Benjamin Harrison, intended to recognize Columbus’s arrival to the Americas on October 12, four centuries earlier. Not until 1937, during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency, was it instituted as a national holiday, after much lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic-based fraternal organization popular with Italian-Americans. Indeed, originally, it was intended as a celebration of Italian heritage rather than of European settler colonialism, at a time when Italian-Americans themselves experienced prejudice and discrimination in the United States. Today, some Italian-Americans, realizing Columbus’s true legacy, choose to celebrate other Italian-Americans on this day.

Indigenous Peoples Day represents more than just a name change or alternative; it is a means of opening a new conversation and beginning to correct the U.S. historical narrative. First celebrated in South Dakota in 1989, today 11 states and well over 100 cities, including Washington, DC, have officially adopted the holiday. As of last Tuesday, the state of Wisconsin is among those jurisdictions. Home to 12 tribal Nations, including the Ho-Chunk, on whose homeland the University of Wisconsin–Madison sits, Wisconsin is helping to lead a shift in the country’s understanding of its history. Governor Evers’ declaration even names two university-affiliated Native leaders as having “defended Native rights and promoted sovereignty and prosperity for their people”: Dr. Patty Loew, formerly of the School of Human Ecology and an instrumental figure in developing the Native Nations_UW initiative; and Ada Deer, former director of the university’s American Indian Studies program and the first woman head of the national Bureau of Indian Affairs, at the request of then-president Bill Clinton.


Special Hours and Class Visits for “Intersections: Indigenous Textiles of the Americas”

Monday, October 14, 10 AM–4 PM | Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, SoHE

The Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, showing “Intersections: Indigenous Textiles of the Americas” through December 6, will remain open Monday, October 14, in honor of Indigenous People’s Day (the gallery is typically closed Mondays), and a Facebook Live event introducing the exhibit was hosted by curator Dakota Mace (Diné) and Center for Design and Material Culture director Sarah Anne Carter. SoHE alumna Mace and UW art history PhD student Kendra Greendeer (Ho-Chunk) co-curated the exhibit that explores the exchanges of Indigenous American cultures through textiles.

As with all Textile Gallery exhibits and the Collection as a whole, classes and groups across the university are invited to visit as an educational resource for their curricula. Visit the exhibit’s event page for additional programming related to “Intersections,” including a weaving workshop with Ho-Chunk artist Bonnie Bird October 25 (registration required) and a printmaking workshop November 14.

Madison College Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration

Monday, October 14, 3 PM | Madison College South Campus

Madison College’s Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Community invites the public to its new South Campus (2429 Perry St) to celebrate Wisconsin’s first official Indigenous Peoples Day. The event will feature District 11 Alder Alvina Martin, Madison’s first Native American alder, and author Louis V. Clark III. Learn more here.

Wunk Sheek Mini Powwow

Monday, October 14, 7–10 PM | Dejope Residence Hall

Wunk Sheek, an organization serving students of Indigenous identity and members of the UW-Madison community interested in Indigenous issues, culture, and history, will celebrate the inaugural Indigenous Peoples Day in Wisconsin with a mini powwow in the Mendota Room of Dejope Residence Hall, emceed by Dylan Jennings and featuring a shared meal and music. Grand entry at 7 PM. RSVP on Facebook.

Lecture: “Our Shared Future: Learning from the Hard Truths of Our Place”

Tuesday, October 15, 7–8:30 PM | UW Arboretum

Omar Poler, interim American Indian curriculum services coordination for the School of Education at UW–Madison, will give a talk as part of the UW Arboretum fall lecture series “Indigenous Knowledge Inspired by the Land.” Learn more about the full series here.

Additional resources

Distinguished Lecture: Samantha Skenandore, “Indigenuity and Teejop”

UW–Madison alum, attorney, and member of the Ho-Chunk Nation Samantha Skenandore discusses the history of Teejop (“day-JOPE”), the ancestral Ho-Chunk land on which the university is sited. Watch the full lecture, courtesy of Wisconsin Public Television, here.

American Indian Studies Program

Learn about course offerings and other opportunities available through the university’s American Indian Studies program here.

Native Nations_UW

Learn about a new, ongoing partnership, Native Nations_UW, led by Native communities throughout Wisconsin in collaboration with the university.

Our Shared Future

UW–Madison’s Our Shared Future educates community members on the historical relationship between the Ho-Chunk Nation and the United States and the occupation by the UW–Madison campus of long-held Ho-Chunk land. It features a plaque currently traveling around the campus to foster conversation around this history, as well as grant opportunities and educational resources about Wisconsin’s First Nations.


This online collection of resources provides educators and pre-service teachers accurate and authentic educational materials for teaching about the American Indian Nations of Wisconsin, as directed in Wisconsin Education Act 31.