LSC’s Patty Loew helps facilitate University of Wisconsin and Native Nations partnership

Much of LSC professor Patty Loew’s research has focused on how indigenous people use media to form identity, reconstruct the past, and assert their sovereignty and treaty rights.  A member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, Loew’s passion for First Nation communities has led her to write multiple books and articles on Native topics, produce Native-themed documentaries, and teach various courses related to indigenous populations including the course LSC 444: Native American Environmental Issues and the Media.

LSC’s Patty Loew speaking at the 2015 UW/Native Nations Summit on Environment and Health.

Recently, her passions led her to a unique project. Loew is now working with the School of Human Ecology (SoHE) leading the UW-Native Nations Initiative, a partnership between UW-Madison, UW-Extension, and UW Colleges to improve the relationship between the University of Wisconsin and the twelve Indian nations located in the state.

In the past UW-Madison, UW-Extension, and UW Colleges have partnered with Native Nations on various efforts surrounding health services, environmental preservation, economic development, education, and more.  However, past partnership and support has sometimes been uneven, informal, or unsustainable.  The UW-Native Nations Initiative aims to build more respectful and reciprocal partnerships between the University of Wisconsin and Native Nation communities across the state.

“We haven’t done a good job of making our UW campuses welcoming spaces for Native students and our research approaches haven’t always been respectful.  We believe that we need to make changes,” Loew said.

According to Loew, the project is based on listening.  Shortly after the initiative began, Patty and others in the group engaged in listening sessions with Native communities in various locations across the state.

“We traveled to each of the twelve Native communities and the urban Indian community in Milwaukee and asked, “What do we need to do to become the partner you want us to be?” We learned that health, sustainable development, education, and especially the environment were four critical areas of need. This opens up some really exciting opportunities for research and outreach collaborations,” notes Loew.

A three-year strategic plan was created based on the feedback and guidance gathered at the listening sessions. The plan, which outlines initial strategies for building meaningful relationships with Native Nation communities, was sent to each of the provosts of UW-Madison, UW-Extension and UW-Colleges for review earlier this year.  Next, the recommendations will go back to the Native communities for comment.

This is only the first step in establishing strong partnerships moving forward.  Nevertheless, considering the inclusive and transparent nature of the project, Loew is hopeful it will lead to mutually beneficial research, teaching, and outreach opportunities in the future.

And according to Loew, these partnerships could benefit the science communication community at large. “Native communities have a rich understanding, not only of science, but also Traditional Ecological Knowledge. They are first to notice changes in their natural landscapes.  Our UW scientists and science communicators can benefit from this knowledge and contribute their own scholarship to promote greater understanding about the challenges that face us all.”