Local Ojibwe Tribal Members Participate in Drum Circle Photo by Jean Germano

As the fall leaves started to depart the trees, students, faculty, and community members gathered on and around the Maawanji’idiwin (The Place Where We Come Together) for the commemoration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the grounds of the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus.

The gathering, held on Oct. 14, featured speeches by Kat Werchouski and Jerel Benton of the University’s Equity, Diversion and Inclusion department; State Senator Janet Bewley; State Representative Nick Milroy; Superior Mayor Jim Paine; University Interim Provost Dr. Maria Cuzzo; and Ronnie Preston of the Woodland Sky Native Dance Company during the ceremony.

Ronnie Preston, member of the Woodland Sky Native American Dance Company
Photo by Jean Germano

The different speakers were united in their cause of recognizing indigenous peoples. “It is not ‘indigenous’ day, it is not indigenous ‘place’ day, it is indigenous ‘peoples’ day.” This was the call made by Superior Mayor Paine who earlier that day had made a formal declaration that henceforth the City would recognize the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Werchouski, a member of the Red Cliff Ojibwe band, acted as the event’s master of ceremonies and extended recognition to the ogichchidaa (warriors/veterans) and local leaders present at the event, but noted that as per tradition it was not necessary to call out these individuals specifically as, “…we’re all here together…”

Benton said, “[This proclamation provides evidence of our support] as we move forward to embrace this indigenous culture. We do not expect [indigenous] individuals to leave their culture at home and assimilate to the dominant culture. We want to help them… make folks aware of the culture that currently exists and is thriving in many ways today.”

Milroy took the time to recognize many of the past and present local tribal leaders who had helped educate him about Native peoples and

and their cultures. Citing Bad River tribal member Patty Loew as having provided inspiration, he went on to speak on a bipartisan bill he had worked to draft that would provide in-state student pricing to any prospective student who is the member of a federally recognized tribe.

Bewley took the stand to speak on a bill that was passing through the Wisconsin legislative system that promises some debt forgiveness to the student loans of minorities who attend UW-System schools and go on to teach at Wisconsin school districts with sizable minority populations. “I thought, ‘what an idea,’” she said, “but then I read the fine print.” Bewley expressed concern that the definition of minority population in the bill presently places too high a threshold at 40%; making it harder for people from smaller tribes to return to their local area schools.

Towards the close of the gathering Ronnie Preston of the Woodland Sky Native American Dance Company came forward to speak on the performance his group would be putting on in the Thorpe Langley Auditorium immediately after the ceremony. Preston said, “When you sit down in that auditorium, don’t think of it as an auditorium. Think of it as a classroom and we the dancers as the teachers.”

The performances showcased Native stories and history from the lands of the Ojibwe to those of the Omaha in the Southwest. Renditions of the Omaha Grass Dance, memories about Second World War battleship service, and traditional tales were all seen and told during the performance accented with dance, colorful lighting, and plumes of smoke.