Professor Patty Loew living the Wisconsin Idea

Patty LoewLSC Professor Patty Loew wears many hats. Loew is a popular professor who teaches courses on digital video production, qualitative research methods and Native American environmental issues and the media. She’s also an author, a documentary filmmaker, and a popular public speaker. To say Loew has a full schedule and busy life is a bit of an understatement.

And of all the months on the calendar, November always stands out as particularly busy for her. In addition to her normal responsibilities, Loew – a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe – receives numerous speaking requests because November is Native American Heritage Month.

Often, these groups want to understand Native viewpoints on topics including sovereignty, treaty rights and Native American veterans issues (Loew produced an award-winning documentary about Native American veterans, The Way of the Warrior).

But this past November was especially demanding for her. Loew spent November on a whirlwind tour of the state that was intense even for her. “My Novembers are always pretty busy but this past November was particularly intense”, said Loew.

What made this November particularly hectic for her?

For starters, Loew was traveling the state to promote the recently released second edition of her popular book, “Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal”. Her award-winning book was first released in 2001.

The first edition did so well her publisher asked that she put a different book project on hold and instead focus on writing the second edition. With the release of the book in August 2013, many organizations wanted to hear from Loew about the new edition.

But Loew wasn’t traveling the state just to give book talks. She was also traveling and giving talks about about Native environmental issues, a topic near and dear to her.

Many groups wanted her to speak about the proposed taconite mine in the Penokee Range of Northern Wisconsin. The mine is a controversial and popular topic in Wisconsin and has shone a particularly bright spotlight on Native environmental issues in the state.

According to Loew, the proposed mine threatens Bad River Ojibwe wild rice beds, lands and Ojibwe culture. The mine also threatens the overall health of the surrounding lands and communities, Native and non-Native alike.

Being a Bad River tribal member, this issue is particularly important to her. So this summer, she earned a First Peoples Fund Grant to work with and mentor three Ojibwe teenagers who live near the proposed mine site.

Loew taught the students how to create a long form documentary that focused on providing an Ojibwe and non-Indian perspective of the proposed mine. The three teens were responsible for shooting video and recording interviews with community members, scientists, and non-Indians, all of whom shared their concerns about the proposed open-pit taconite mine at the headwaters of the Bad River in Northern Wisconsin.

The result was a thirty-minute environmental documentary about the mine entitled “Protect our Future”. The film has already won several awards. The film premiered in November and Loew attended the premieres and spoke with the film viewers about the mine issue.

And if that wasn’t enough, Loew spent time consulting several museums on upcoming exhibits about Wisconsin’s Native Americans.

I asked Loew how she fits so much into her schedule and is able to do such impactful work in the classroom, on campus and around the state. Loew said she approaches her work with a big picture perspective. “For me, I approach teaching, research and outreach holistically. They represent 3 parts of the same thing.”

For example, Loew teaches courses on qualitative research methods, a digital video production course and a course entitled, “Native American Environmental Issues and the Media”.

As an educator who spends a lot of time gathering research in Indian Country, she seeks ways to gather research for her students and simultaneously help the communities she’s working in.

For example, if she’s teaching a group of Native middle school students how to videotape an interview with an elder about traditional foods, she’s helping the youth in the community build communication skills while preserving the wisdom of the tribal elder for future generations.

Loew is then able to use the interview and the transcription of the interview in her qualitative research methods class. She has her graduate students analyze these materials so they can understand narrative, textual and visual analysis skills which makes the students better researchers.

She can then share the same interview in her Native American Environmental Issues and the Media Course. This helps expose students in the course to a different perspective on a salient topic. And if the media topic is shared on a platform like YouTube, others outside the classroom can watch and learn. It’s truly an integrated effort, which makes sense for Loew and all those she touches through her work.

“For me, it makes a lot of sense to do my things in this way so it’s not really much more work.  It’s all gets incorporated into one big happy academic moment for me.”

So for Loew, the busy month is more than worth it.