College is a time of transition for all students. But some Native American students say it’s a more difficult transition for them.
“I’ve always attended a tribal school my entire life. I’ve always been the majority. I’ve always been immersed and surrounded by my people,” said UW-Green Bay junior Luanne Funmaker, a Psychology and First Nation Studies Major. “So when I come here, it’s a culture shock. It was really difficult for me to adjust.”
Funmaker, who is a member of the Oneida Nation and is also Ho-Chunk, is not alone.
“For a lot of Native students, going to a university I know is a difficult transition. It depends on where they come from but it can be a culture shock, a big issue,” said Forrest Brooks, a lecturer in the First Nation Studies program and an academic adviser with UW-Green Bay’s Adult Degree Program. “Basically what that means is they come to a university and they’re not used to being one out of 30 students in the class that’s Native American and they don’t necessarily have a support group.”
But according to faculty, staff and students, that support for Native students is growing at UW-Green Bay. The American Intercultural Center is one place that offers support.
“I feel that the AIC provides a perfect place for bonding for other students, other minority students because I see all kinds of people in here: Asians, blacks, Natives, Middle Eastern people. I see them in here,” Funmaker said.
The Intertribal Student Council is taking on an increased role on campus. The group sponsored an Oneida Social in December, which featured traditional singing and dancing.
The student group also hosted a traveling exhibit in November called “Bittersweet Winds,” a display on Native American imagery. A panel discussion examined the creation of National Native Heritage Day.
The University is also home to an academic major in First Nation Studies.
Nearly half of all UW-Green Bay graduates take a First Nation Studies course while in college.
“Our program exists to connect the campus and learning with tribal world knowledge so that our students are educated citizens,” said Prof. Lisa Poupart, chair of the First Nation Studies program.
Besides the major itself, Poupart says the Education Center for First Nation Studies works with current and future teachers to help them teach K-12 students about Native American culture and history.
There are also three tribal elders in residence on campus to meet with students. They are there to provide a more informal education.
“I can honestly tell you I don’t think there’s any other place in the U.S. that has oral traditional elders in residence, oral scholars who get a stipend to be on campus to work with students in that way,” Poupart said. “It’s a really wonderful and unique thing, especially at a time when university resources are scarce, that our institution stood up and said ‘Yeah, let’s put a little bit of money into this and see if it can grow from there.’”
In the fall of 2010, the number of Native students on campus grew to a record 176. While most students identify themselves as Oneida or Menominee, 21 tribes or bands are represented on campus including: Aleut, Bad River Chippewa, Blackfoot, Brothertown, Catawba, Cherokee, Chippewa, Choctaw, Forest County Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa, Lac du Flambeau Chippewa, Menominee, Mole Lake (Sokaogon) Chippewa, Muscogee (Creek), Oneida, Red Cliff Chippewa, Sioux, St. Croix Chippewa, Stockbridge Munsee Mohican and Yaqui.
In the 2009-10 academic year, 17 Native American students graduated.
The numbers are one reason UW-Green Bay was named one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans by Winds of Change magazine. The magazine included UW-Green Bay in its 17th annual college guide issue, which featured a list of schools that are notably supportive of their Native students. The magazine recognized schools that graduate a good percentage of their Native American undergrads and that have a good American Indian community for support. UW-Green Bay was listed alphabetically along with UW-Madison, Milwaukee and Superior as Wisconsin public universities that made the Top 200.
Brooks says the surrounding community makes the transition to college a little easier for Native students at UW-Green Bay.
“I think one of the advantages of being at Green Bay is that there’s a large native presence within the community as well so Native students who come here know there’s other places for them to go besides just the campus,” Brooks said.
“It’s only 20 minutes away from the Oneida reservation. It’s only a half an hour away from the Menominee reservation,” she said. “So to be top 200, I think it’s really good because it can provides natives with just more of a feeling of home.”
She also says it’s important for students, both native and non-native, to help break down stereotypes.
“People need to realize that there are natives here because not a lot of people do. A lot of people do just go along with the stereotypes or just go off of what they see in movies or believe that they all live in teepees or some people even think they’re extinct,” Funmaker said. “Some people don’t even realize that natives are still around, that we are still here and are alive and are practicing our culture and our traditions and our religion.”
Junior Donald Keeble, who transferred to UW-Green Bay from Florida, says while the experiences may be different, Native students are just that: students.
“When I lived down in Florida, a lot of people assumed by movies and ironically mascots, that’s how I was. I’m just like any other student but maybe with different experiences,” said Keeble, a member of the Forest County Potawatomi majoring in Social Work.