School of Education News

Isthmus reports on UW-Madison’s Bird Bear telling ‘The story of this land’

September 29, 2018

The Isthmus newspaper recently highlighted the First Nations Cultural Landscape Tours on the UW-Madison campus, which are led by Aaron Bird Bear.

Bird Bear developed the First Nations Heritage Tour to promote understanding of the history of Madison's landscapes and address major racial equity issues. It was originally developed for American Indian students adjusting to college life, and has since been adapted for use in curriculum. Over the past three years, there have been almost 200 tours.

Aaron Bird Bear
The School of Education's Aaron Bird Bear tells
Isthmus: "Once you go on the tour, you can't unsee
the landscape. It permanently alters your
perceptions of this place."
Bird Bear is the School of Education’s assistant dean for student diversity programs and also serves as the Multicultural/Disadvantaged Coordinator for the School. He also oversees the summer College Access Program for high school students, the Summer Education Research Program for prospective graduate students, the Education Graduate Research Scholar’s Program for current graduate students, and the American Indian Curriculum Services unit, which coordinates Wisconsin Indian education efforts in teacher education programs.

Bird Bear and Omar Poler, UW-Madison’s American Indian Curriculum Services coordinator, lead groups on about 80 tours per year.

“Once you go on the tour, you can’t unsee the landscape,” Bird Bear tells Isthmus. “It permanently alters your perception of this place.”

The Isthmus report is headlined, “The story of this land.” It begins: “As the sun sets behind Dejope residence hall, Aaron Bird Bear stands before a group of students seated around the building’s sacred fire circle, a gathering place and monument honoring Wisconsin’s Native American tribes. First, he greets them in Ho Chunk, the language of the mound-builders whose history in Madison dates back thousands of years. Getting no response, he tries Ojibwe, the language used for trade in the Great Lakes region; then French, the language of the fur trappers and missionaries who came to Wisconsin in the 1600s; and finally English, the language of the colonists and the Americans who attempted six times to forcibly expel the area’s indigenous people from their ancestral homeland.”

“You’re sitting in the middle of what should be a world heritage site,” he tells the students. “But it’s not, because of the attitudes people had about those who were living here.”

But to learn much more, make sure and check out the entire report for free on this Isthmus web page.


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