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Bird Bear shares UW-Madison’s unique archaeological history with Wisconsin Life

January 04, 2019

Aaron Bird Bear, who gives unique tours of UW-Madison’s campus, was recently interviewed by Wisconsin Life about his commitment to sharing the land's full history. 

Bird Bear is the assistant dean for Student Diversity programs in UW-Madison's School of Education and serves as the Multicultural/Disadvantaged Coordinator for the School. He also oversees the summer College Access Program for high school students, the Summer Education Research Program for prospective graduate students, the Education Graduate Research Scholar’s Program for current graduate students, and the American Indian Curriculum Services unit, which coordinates Wisconsin Indian education efforts in teacher education programs. 

Wisconsin Life Bird Bear interview
Check out this Wisconsin Life video report on Aaron Bird
Bear's tours of the UW-Madison campus.
In this interview, Bird Bear takes Wisconsin Life on a tour of UW-Madison’s historically rich campus, showcasing monuments and landmarks in a different light. Bird Bear tells Wisconsin Life that, while most think of Madison’s history beginning in the mid-1800s, there is actually a record of human life that dates back 12,000 years ago. This can be seen in the 37 extant effigy and conical linear mounds that can be found on the UW-Madison campus. 

Often representational of figures like deer, bear, canines, birds, water spirits, and snakes, these mounds are unique to the western Great Lakes and, as Bird Bear told Wisconsin Life, are a part of what make Madison a special place. 

While UW-Madison records the rich history of First Nations, campus landmarks also record centuries of discrimination against Native Americans, especially the Ho-Chunk. Bird Bear tells Wisconsin Life that the infamous statue of Abraham Lincoln on Bascom Hill records a darker history, saying “Here’s the Indian Wars baked into our own campus while Lincoln is president. He is committed to the ethnic cleansing of the Ho-Chunk. He’s enacting our federal policy. So, he’s a leader who’s trying to rid the Native American presence from Wisconsin as president. The Ho-Chunk view him as an evil monster and somebody committed to their destruction.”

On his tour, Bird Bear also points out various plaques and features that continue this history. In the Memorial Union, he points out paintings on the ceiling that misrepresent Native American culture. He also notes that UW-Madison was not always an institution that accepted students of different genders, races and ethnicities. 

Although the UW-Madison campus documents a rocky past, Bird Bear tells Wisconsin Life that “concrete stuff is happening around us, that show us that there’s tremendous value in the teaching and learning about the full 12,000 years of this place.”

This brings the tour to a more recent addition on campus, the Dejope dorm and dining hall. Dejope, a Ho-Chunk word meaning "four lakes," has become a celebration of Native Americans in Madison. Not only is the building shaped like a bird, but inside, there are numerous features that commemorate the First Nations, like informational plaques and representations of the various effigy mounds. 

Bird Bear tell Wisconsin Life that he will continue to be committed to these tours, as he feels it is “a story of hope and a story of incredible promise of what relationships can become between First Nations and our university community.”

Check out Wisconsin Life's full report and watch the video of Bird Bear's tour here.

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