UWM is establishing an institute for American Indian education, named for Electa Quinney, a Stockbridge Mohican woman and pioneering Wisconsin educator.
David Beaulieu, professor of educational policy and community studies in UWM’s School of Education, will head the new institute as the Electa Quinney professor.
The institute grew out of an endowed professorship in American Indian education established in 1999 through a gift to the university from the Indian Community School. Beaulieu served as the first Electa Quinney professor, but left for Arizona State University in 2004.
The position went unfilled for several years, but the university and the Indian Community School have worked to revive their partnership and develop it in a new, broader direction.
The opportunity to establish the institute drew Beaulieu back to UWM. An enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, White Earth Reservation, he is a nationally known expert in American Indian education policy.
In addition to a long career in government and education, Beaulieu has served on the board of directors and as president of the National Indian Education Association. From 1997 to 2001, he was the director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Indian Education.
A broad approach
The UWM institute would have direct oversight of American Indian education-related initiatives, but would also bring together the perspectives of faculty and students from a variety of disciplines and existing programs to focus on education and policy issues in partnership with the American Indian communities and tribes, says Beaulieu.
Research, service and learning opportunities would focus both on American Indians and on non-Indians interested in working with tribal communities, according to Beaulieu.
“There is a lot to know about the unique laws, government structures, natural environment, history and cultural significance of American Indian tribes,” he says. “It is important that those working with these communities know this context so they are better able to work in partnership with individuals and leaders.”
Research on water quality on tribal lands is one good example of a potential collaboration, he notes. Public health is another area in which research and projects specific to American Indian populations could be developed, because American Indians in both urban and rural communities have statistically higher rates of diabetes, substance abuse and other poverty-related health challenges.
“Too often, American Indians are seen as the subject of research, and teaching,” says Beaulieu, “but increasingly, American Indian tribes and communities have sought to be consumers defining these needs directly, including the need for educated professionals who can work within their communities.”
In addition, American Indian university students at UWM and elsewhere are increasingly interested in research and learning experiences in their tribes and communities, he says. Research and service programs at the undergraduate level could be a catalyst, encouraging more students to go into graduate programs, he adds.
Laying the groundwork
The university and the Indian Community School, who will jointly provide funding for the institute, have conducted focus groups among Wisconsin tribes and communities as well as with UWM faculty, staff and students in laying the groundwork for the new institute.
The institute will hire at least one addditional faculty member initially. “We realized the scope of what we wanted to do would require more than one person,” says Beaulieu.
In addition, the institute will seek grants in partnership with the American Indian community to develop research and learning programs, according to Beaulieu.
The broad approach of the institute is very much in the spirit of Electa Quinney, the educator for whom it is named. Quinney established the first school in Wisconsin, says Beaulieu, which served both American Indian and white students.
“She saw education as a way of preparing young people to meet the challenges their communities faced. Today the challenges are different, but we still need educated people who not only have the professional skills, but also the knowledge of the unique community contexts in which solutions must be developed.”