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How Indigenous Peoples' Day came to be recognized in Wisconsin

ICS students cheering.jpg
Siobhan Marks
/
Indian Community School
Indian Community School students cheer at a 2017 rally in the Wisconsin State Capitol.

Since 2019, every second Monday of October has been officially recognized as Indigenous Peoples' Day in Wisconsin. But did you know that this celebration is thanks to a group of students at Indian Community School in Franklin? In 2016, a group of fourth-grade students were learning about Columbus Day and something didn’t sit right with them. This led to some classroom discussions which grew into a Milwaukee County resolution, a rally at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, and eventually, statewide approval of Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Jason Dropik is the head of Indian Community School. He recalls how the students felt when learning about Christopher Columbus.

ICS student testimony-3.jpg
Siobhan Marks
/
Indian Community School

"It's not only just knowing that they weren't always told a complete story of what had happened, and in particular, all the different dynamics that existed between exploration and colonization, but all these impacts on communities. They really wanted to make sure that other people were aware of it as well," Dopik says.

The students didn't stop after Milwaukee County made a declaration for Indigenous Peoples' Day in 2016, they continued their push for state recognition. Their efforts connected them with State Representative David Bowen and students even traveled to the state capitol in 2017 to share their testimony.

"And so our fourth grade students at that time, then fifth graders, they're going to the capitol and taking other students with them, students to help testify and to share their perspective. As they took that on, we wanted to continue to make sure that we were acknowledging and celebrating even though at that time, that legislation didn't get taken forward."

Indian Community School students sing at the Wisconsin State Capitol.

Indian Community School communications and marketing director Shiohban Marks adds, "Following the testimony, we all got into the rotunda and ... they're singing and filling the halls of our state capitol with our songs in our way, and we did a round dance all around that rotunda with the students."

Fast forward to 2019 when Governor Tony Evers gave Indigenous Peoples' Day statewide recognition, he visited Indian Community School to sign Executive Order No. 50. Tribal council members from every one of the 11 federally recognized tribes and all students were in attendance.

Governor Evers Executive Order at ICS 2019.jpg
Siobhan Marks
/
Indian Community School
Governor Tony Evers signs Executive Order No. 50 in October of 2019 at Indian Community School in Franklin, Wis.

"To be able to have our students see that and have tribal leaders here in the audience with our students and to have the governor of our state — be able to acknowledge their hard work — and really acknowledge them as people and contributing members of the community, it was very powerful," says Dropik.

Dropik says he feels proud of the work the students achieved.

"So it was an amazing testament to students really trying to be not only knowledgeable, but then also enacting change. They believe that their ancestors and their communities and our cultures are not just historical, that they’re valid today and we need to really continue to teach them," says Dropik.

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.
Kobe Brown is WUWM's Eric Von fellow.
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