About Act 31

Wisconsin’s residents engage in a continually diversifying society, and its citizens increasingly need an understanding of the history, culture, and sovereignty of the American Indian nations in the state. Wisconsin borders the most federally recognized tribes in one state east of the Mississippi, and their contributions touch citizen’s lives in many ways, from education, to economics, to politics, and law. The events following the 1983 Voigt decision, in which the Lake Superior Ojibwe’s rights to hunt and fish off reservation were affirmed, made it clear that many Wisconsin residents had limited knowledge of American Indian history, culture, and sovereignty, the basis for the Ojibwe’s claim and the court’s decision to uphold their rights. Violent protests and ugly displays of racism surged across northern Wisconsin as small but vocal groups of citizens organized to prevent tribal members from exercising their rights on Wisconsin lakes. Many of the states citizens watched in amazement as their state, known for its progressive history, engaged in overt organized racism wondering how it happened and what could be done.

Through efforts of community members, an ad hoc commission on racism, the American Indian Language and Culture Board, and then Governor Tommy Thompson, the Wisconsin state legislature introduced statutes mandating education about Wisconsin American Indians in its 1989-1991 biennial budget as a way of combating persisting racism and ignorance. The statutes, commonly called “Act 31,” are designed to help Wisconsin’s citizens understand American Indian history, culture, and sovereignty, and thus engage in our multicultural society in an educated and informed way. The name is a reference to the budget bill, which was numbered Act 31 that year. The statutory language carries requirements for the state superintendent, school boards, in-service teachers, pre-service teachers, and certification programs. While these are not the only statutes and standards that require consideration of American Indian studies and students, the following are the major statutory requirements.

Chapter 115
State Superintendent: Gen. Classifications and Definitions: Handicapped Children

115.28 General Duties

    • (17) American Indian Language and Culture Education
    • (d) In coordination with the American Indian Language and Culture Education Board, develop a curriculum for grades 4 to 12 on the Chippewa Indians' treaty-based, off-reservation rights to hunt, fish, and gather.

Chapter 118 - General School District Operations

118.01 ( c) Citizenship 

Each school board shall provide an instructional program designed to give pupils:

    • (7) An appreciation and understanding of different value systems and cultures.
    • (8) At all grade levels, an understanding of human relations, particularly with regard to American Indians, Black Americans, and Hispanics.

118.19 Teacher Certificates and Licenses

Chapter 121 - School Finance 121.02 School District Standards
    • (1) Each school board shall: (h) Provide adequate instructional materials, texts, and library services which reflect the cultural diversity and pluralistic nature of American society.
    • (L)(4) Beginning September 1, 1991, as part of the social studies curriculum, include instruction in the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the federally recognized American Indian tribes and bands located in this state at least twice in the elementary grades and at least once in the high school grades.
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