“The Story of Act 31” Traces Native History Policy & Curriculum

In 1989, a state law known as Act 31 was passed that requires all students in Wisconsin to learn the history, culture and tribal sovereignty of Wisconsin’s federally recognized tribes. The Story of Act 31: How Native History Came to Wisconsin Classrooms details the story behind that landmark legislation and its implementation.

Author J P Leary, an associate professor of First Nations Studies at UW-Green Bay and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s American Indian Studies Consultant (1996-2011), traces the legislation’s origins from a 1983 court decision that affirmed American Indian hunting and fishing treaty rights and led to violent public outcry. Leary also explores pre-1989 educational policy decisions in order to tell the full story of how Native history became a Wisconsin classroom requirement.

Despite an uneven implementation throughout the state that created it, Act 31 stands as an important, national example of how American Indians worked through a policy system in order to pursue positive change and to increase the understanding of American Indian history and culture.

Leary is an associate professor of humanities, First Nations studies, and history at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. He is also a member of the graduate faculty in education and a faculty affiliate with the Professional Program in Education Center for First Nations Studies.

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