Wisconsin UW System Needs To Return, Under Federal Law, Native Tribe Remains And Funerary Objects

Over the past few years, our nation has attempted a better reckoning with some of the social issues that still lead to inequality and harm to some segments of our society.  There is no disputing the power that masses of people across the country asserted following the death of George Floyd.  The growing understanding of why transgender teens must be allowed their space and right to become adults proves how a determined push can make positive changes.

While we can point to real progress on some issues, there are other matters that deal with peoples and cultures which remain nearly stalled.  In 1990–over thirty years ago(!)–the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, became law.  Its intent was to ensure the return of tribal objects by institutions receiving federal money.

The law is rather straightforward. It requires facilities that have such artifacts to submit inventories to federally recognized tribes in the United States. Human remains, along with funerary and sacred objects that can be linked to a specific tribe must be repatriated upon request.

It was reported in the news that some 870,000 Native tribe artifacts that should be returned to tribes under that federal law are still in the possession of colleges, museums, and other institutions across our country. It must be noted, that also includes nearly 110,000 human remains.   The National Park Service maintains the data on these artifacts, with the entire list here.

The Wisconsin UW system has a number of bones and funerary objects that must be repatriated to the proper tribes.

We often hear about the desire to heal the pain in our nation, atone for the past actions of other generations, and find ways of uniting and moving forward.  How then, in this era of computers and technology, are there still tens of thousands of ancestors not repatriated with their tribes?

Why this matters so very much is that we are not talking about extinct people, as many of these artifacts are still very much integral components of living cultures. Additionally, the placement of ancestral bones and other sacred objects in cold and sterile museums runs counter to Native beliefs.

For me, this story has some meaning beyond the headlines. I am most proud of being the first cousin, 6 times removed, from Chief John Ross who witnessed the horror of the Trail of Tears first-hand.  He was also known as Guwisguwi (a mythological or rare migratory bird), and was Principal Chief of the Cherokee Native American Nation from 1828–1866.  My Mom’s side of the family always spoke with pride about their heritage.

Broken treaties litter our national story concerning Native tribes. Thirty years after a federal law was passed about Native bones and, artifacts it is troubling that so much work remains to be done. A better reckoning with the parts of our past regarding Native tribes is much in need.

UW-River Falls Lands Grant To Study ‘Detergent For The Atmosphere’

The increasing level of awareness about enacting proper policies to combat global warming, and educating the citizenry about environmental concerns is producing some good results. We can agree policy moves are not taking place fast enough to meet the changes that are being noted globally, but with more efforts made at informing younger generations, who will be leaders someday, it is hoped that more robust changes can occur.

I was delighted to learn, therefore, that three University of Wisconsin-River Falls students are using their summer months as part of a National Science Foundation grant to study the effect of pinenes, molecules released by conifer trees, and other vegetation into the atmosphere. Why this matters, (and like you, I am learning as I blog), is that pinenes are oxidized by other molecules in the atmosphere and during the process produce an important molecule that acts as a detergent for the atmosphere. 

University of Wisconsin River Falls Chemistry and biotechnology Professor Stacey Stoffregen, left, with research students Lilianna Rolands, Makayla Mobeck, and Trinity Olguin.

There are many reasons to smile about this project and applaud the effort.

First, science matters greatly, and grant writing and securing funding is tough work. So to land the $459,686 three-year grant for the project is truly noteworthy.

Getting fresh young minds involved with research not only looks good for their future resumes, but also matters to the climate change dilemma, that now impacts the entire globe. Who knows what findings or new questions these students might land upon which move and shape another researcher perhaps in some other nation that will then spur on a finding that has far-reaching implications.

That is the beauty of research! That is what excites me about this news.

And of course, the research branches out at UW-River Falls beyond these women as additional students will continue the research project for the next two summers.  Their contributions will supplement the growing understanding of atmospheric processes.

There are many news headlines that make up each of our days, and sadly, too many of them are the kind that can only be labeled as just awful. So it pleases me that there is a truly uplifting and hopeful story, coming from Wisconsin about young people and scientific research.

Tommy Thompson Would Have Been Formidable Candidate For Governor

One of the constant refrains I have heard from people who teach or work at UW-Madison is how Tommy Thompson rose to the occasion as interim president of the University of Wisconsin System. The former governor cemented himself as a reasoned statesman for the higher educational ideals of our state.

When liberals in Madison are praising Tommy Thompson it proves not only the continuing legacy of this man but something deeper about politics and governing. We desire competence and gravitas from our leaders. When people watched Thompson do his work with clarity of purpose and determination during tough and challenging times, while a pandemic raged, they paid attention. They also applauded.

Thompson made an announcement Monday that his four terms as governor, starting in the 1980s, will not be extended by another four years. There are surely varied reactions to the news as some in the Republican Party would prefer to see a powerful and robust candidate take the state into the fall election. At the same time, Democrats are pleased that Governor Tony Evers will only need to deal with the current lineup of GOP candidates who have yet to find an energized pace.

For politicos, however, the loss of Thompson as a candidate has deprived this battleground state of what would have been a grand election experience.

There is something that changes when Thompson enters a room or takes to a stage. One does not need to be a Republican to feel that charge in the air, as no one can doubt a sense of pride when the former governor speaks inspirationally about the state, our workers, and the future.

And then there is the handshaking campaign style of Thompson who seemingly never forgets a name or the son or daughter who is taking classes at Stevens Point or Eau Claire. He is the consummate campaigner.

Thompson made a tremendous impression on me in 1987, one that encompasses his abilities and personality.

An employee of the famed Door County eatery,  Al Johnson’s Restaurant (with goats on the roof!), fell ill with hepatitis contracted during a vacation.  The establishment closed down for an extended period of time, and when reopening called in none other than Thompson to create the needed favorable headlines.

A number of elected officials were standing in line along with local citizens galore, waiting for the Governor to arrive.  When Thompson’s car arrived and he set foot on the ground his smile and outstretched hand never stopped.  He greeted people by first names, and if he did not know it he still bantered like they had been college buddies.  His one hand rested on a shoulder as he pumped a handshake and looked into a person’s eyes, as opposed to the too-often ‘political scan’ over the shoulder to see what else is happening.  He was truly present with the folks in that restaurant.  That morning has never been forgotten for how the art of politics can look and feel.

I regret Thompson’s decision not to run as he is perhaps the only one in our state who has that larger trust from a wide segment of the state. If anyone has bi-partisan regard from the electorate it is Thompson. Yes, Thompson is a solid conservative, but he also has proven to operate above deeply partisan rancor and tribalism of the worst kind.

There are few Wisconsin personalities that match his dynamism or scope of service.  He is a Republican, through and through, but has that essential quality of honesty and fair-play that allows him to have true friends from the entire political spectrum. And that counts in politics!

As such, Thompson would have been a formidable candidate for Wisconsin governor.

And so it goes.

Wisconsin Can Be Proud Of UW System President Tommy Thompson

All across Wisconsin, one thing can be said with a high degree of certainty. Parents of kids attending state universities, professors and staff at the state schools, and communities who are proud to be home to these centers of higher education are all cheering UW System President Tommy Thompson.

And I suspect cheering loudly, too.

The reason is that Thompson directly challenged the Republican leaders in the state legislature who insist they must have control on COVID-19 policies within the UW System. The Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules voted earlier this month in favor of a requirement that the System submit any plans for COVID-19 policies to the committee as emergency rules within 30 days. Failing that the System would need to drop mandates for any such measures.

Over the decades we have watched, again and again, how unsuccessful it has been to force Thompson to take actions contrary to common sense. Such was the case Tuesday when the former Wisconsin Governor and former Secretary of Health and Human Services rebuked the legislative leaders, informing them university leaders don’t need legislative approval to manage the schools.

Left unstated, at least out loud, was “Case closed.”

The reason for the cheering from Sturgeon Bay to Cassville is that people understand the severity of the fourth wave of the pandemic and the woefully inadequate and anemic response from the Republican-controlled legislature. After having watched like everyone else in the state how the pandemic has run wild and now morphed into a deadly variant, Thompson is not about to allow those who are partly to blame for the current situation to have full control over the System’s plans.

When the counter-punch from the legislature was delivered Tuesday by State Senator Steve Nass, who threatened a lawsuit, Thompson was ready to stand his ground on behalf of those he has dedicated himself to fight for.

“I’m not going to be intimidated. Even though I don’t want to pick a fight with the Legislature, I’m going to stand my ground.”

The applause one hears for Thompson this week is not new when it comes to his position.

When Thompson was named the UW System’s interim president there was statewide applause, from all points of the political compass, and all sectors of the state economy.  There was not only optimism about his selection but a deep conviction that Wisconsin’s senior statesman was the person with the skills and steady hands that could guide the UW-System through very challenging times.

From budget fights to the crushing pandemic Thompson reminds us that he is not behind his desk just to make a cameo appearance every now and then. He is invested in the fights so to make our university system stronger and smarter. And with his actions this week he is ensuring that the importance of higher education does not get mired down in the political theater of the anti-mask and mandate crowd who love to create smoke and rhetoric at the statehouse.

Thompson is again proving to be the right person, for the right job, at the right time.

And so it goes.

Tommy Thompson Shows Leadership Skills, UW-System Requests Solid Ideas

When Tommy Thompson was named the UW System’s interim president there was statewide applause, from all points of the political compass, and all sectors of the state economy.  There was not only optimism about his selection but a deep conviction that Wisconsin’s senior statesman was the person with the skills and steady hands that could guide the UW-System through these most challenging times.

With clarity of purpose and a determination to work in a timely fashion Thompson is doing what we all trusted would be his mission at this new job.

Thursday Thompson will push for the Board of Regents to support a 3.5% increase to its 2021-23 state budget.  With new ideas to buttress the UW-System at this time of pandemic and economic pain, Thompson is pushing the envelope to make clear to all state residents the importance of higher education.  Using his political skills he is connecting with parents hard-hit during this time of financial upheaval by proposing a statewide free tuition scholarship program for some Wisconsin students.

Too often we see would-be leaders acting with timidity and couching behind studies and commissions in order to stall decision making.  Too often others fall to the threadbare language of budget cuts and not being able to act as the revenue stream does not seem able to match the needs of the time.

Thompson has proudly taken a different stance. One that we all can be proud of and support. A reader of the Wisconsin State journal could almost hear his determined tone and confidence when reading this quote.

“I want to be able to convince the legislators that the University of Wisconsin has been a punching bag for too long,” he said. “We’re not going to apologize anymore. We’re going out to tell our story.”

Over and over we see all sorts of men and women in our state and across the nation strive to be leaders, and though they exert energy and hope many never attain it.  In part, that is due to not being willing to act as Thompson did by going “big and bold”.

“This is a big, bold, aggressive budget that I think is going to meet the needs of our time,” he told reporters Tuesday in a video news conference. “If you were looking at a way to grow yourself out of a financial dilemma, wouldn’t you go to an area that’s going to give you the biggest return possible? … Who’s a better job creator than the University of Wisconsin?”

For too long there have been some in the state legislature who have delighted in sending out the wrong messages about higher education in this state.  There have been attempts to deny adequate funding for the UW and to divert attention instead to topics ranging from free speech to ‘political correctness.’

Thompson has made a clarion call that the topic for discussion now, and into the next budget cycle, will be the need to foster the growth engine of the state–the UW-System.  In so doing he is demonstrating–again–the role of a leader is to outline a problem facing our state and then finding ways to remedy it.

Thompson is proving to be the right person, for the right job, at the right time.