- A teacher's mistake and misunderstanding put racial tensions in the Northwoods under the microscope.
A math assignment at Lakeland Union High School used a highly offensive word in the Native American community.
Lakeland Union high school has a large Native American population.
When a parent from the Lac du Flambeau tribe saw her son’s worksheet used a derogatory term for Native American women, she was outraged.
"Some people say it's an Iroquois word that meant the female genitalia… You would “trade a sqaw for some woods” back in the day, back in the 1700’s, 1800's. So to me it's always been a derogatory term," said Abbey Thompson, the mother of Lakeland Union High School Student.
According to the teacher the assignment came from an 1980's era workbook, and involved a puzzle using the offensive word.
Todd Kleinhans, the superintendent for Lakeland Union High School said the teacher made a serious mistake, and was disciplined for the assignment.
"This is… a good teacher who had a serious lapse in judgment. Let's make no mistake, the assignment he provided to his math students was insensitive, it was offensive, and quite honestly it was very insulting to our Native American students and to our community.”
Educators with the Lac du Flambeau tribe say this isn't the first instance of racism by ignorance.
Carol Amour with First Nations Traveling Resource Center has spent years working with schools to identify racism, and eliminate it from the classroom.
"We see less bias and stereotyping maybe than say 20 years ago, and that's a good thing. Thank goodness. But we still find it," she said.
Amour says, racism today can be very subtle. She says a major form of bias against Native Americans is practically impossible to see- because Native American culture is simply missing from the curriculum.
She says what the students don't see has a definite impact.
"Unless [Native] students see themselves, in the curriculum, in the schools, they don't have their best chance to succeed... If you don't see yourself as a key player in that environment, that environment may not mean as much to you," she says.
“It’s law that we do a better job of providing accurate information, accurate history.”
Amour is referring to “Act 31”. Joni Theobald, the Education and Workforce Director for Lac Du Flambeau tribe explains:
“…We have Act 31, we have things that are in place now that are state law that require schools to address and learn about tribal sovereignty. It’s those “unknowns”, it’s that misunderstanding that leads to these types of situations,” she said.
“Act 31” is a series of statues passed by the Wisconsin State legislature in 1989. It requires Wisconsin public schools to teach the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the state’s American Indians, to help Wisconsin citizens better understand the native citizens.
The Lakeland student's mother, Abbey Thompson, said she's not angry with the teacher. She wants to learn from the incident and move on.
Theobald, and the tribe have asked the school to implement several measures to give teaches a better understanding of Native American culture, and to promote cultural sensitivity.
Written By: Kailey Burton