Three University of Wisconsin-Madison students have a better understanding of Native American culture and beliefs after taking a class on representations of Native Americans in the media. Furthermore, the projects they completed for the course will help share this new understanding with others in the community.
“It’s so exciting when student projects not only demonstrate strong research, but also provide a public service as well,” says Patty Loew, a professor of life sciences communication in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. A member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, she teaches a course about how media portrayals of Native Americans promote stereotypes and misconceptions about Native culture.
This semester, Loew was especially pleased with three of the final projects submitted by her students. Charmaine Tryon-Petith, a graduating senior, reported and produced a radio program about the Ho-Chunk Nation’s bison ranch near Muscoda. Leah Wedemeyer, another graduating senior, designed a website that addresses common Native stereotypes and misconceptions. And another website by Natalie Woodley, a junior, documents the effigy mounds on campus. Loew is encouraging all three students to pursue opportunities to make their projects available to the public.
The bison ranch near Muscoda is an unfolding story, says Tryon-Petith, who toured the ranch as part of her report. The Ho-Chunk Nation hopes to expand the operation, which provides meat to needy members of the nation, by acquiring land from the former Badger Ammunition plant. Tryon-Petith says she found the experience of reporting, editing and producing a radio program on her own empowering. She has been accepted to the Life Sciences Communication Graduate Program for the fall.
Loew has suggested that Tryon-Petith submit her program to both WSUM, the UW-Madison student radio station, and to WOJB, the Ojibwe-owned radio station on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation near Hayward. “Her report about her visit to the ranch is a rich environmental essay,” Loew says. “Sweet, funny and poetic, Charmaine is a very impressive emerging voice.”
As an aspiring professional web designer, Wedemeyer knew she wanted to create a website where the general public can learn the truth about common misconceptions about Native Americans. She says Loew?s class taught her that while Native Americans value their traditional culture, they don’t want to be pigeonholed by stereotypes. The project will be a great addition to her portfolio, but beyond that she’s found herself enlightening friends and family members about Native American issues. This is particularly important as she explores a possible Native American connection in her heritage.
Loew plans to link to Wedemeyer’s website from her own page. “As a free-standing website, it is very well developed,” she says, “but it also offers a rich network of links to other Native resources.”
The other web project, by Woodley, provides information about the effigy mounds around campus. Like many campus visitors, Woodley says that before Loew’s class she had not been aware of the presence and significance of the mounds, including a two-tailed turtle that is the only known example of its kind. “I was most surprised to learn how many mounds have been damaged or destroyed by buildings on campus,” she says. “At one time there were hundreds of mounds in the Madison area.”
“This virtual tour provides fascinating background information on the effigy mounds and is a good jumping-off point for visitors who want to learn more,” Loew says. The State Historical Society and CALS intend to link to Woodley?s site, and there may be grant money in the future to expand the project. Woodley also hopes that her site will aid an effort by University groundskeepers to replace and update signs marking the effigy mounds. Go here for the virtual tour.