Newly-formed club, Indigenous Students United, to help students with culturally-sensitive issues

By Ken Luchterhand

Destina Warner and Lorraine Reyes wanted to do something good for other indigenous students at Baraboo High School. They wanted to address some of the issues and problems that are distinctive to the indigenous culture.
So, they began to plan to gather the indigenous students and form a club that will provide the information and support they need.
The new group, Indigenous Students United, formed about a month ago, currently has about 30 students.
“The name of our Native American organization originally began as ‘N.A.S.A.’ (Native American Student Association),” Warner said. “When recreating a similar organization to the one that had previously existed, I had asked the rest of the club members what they thought of the name and if anybody wanted to make different suggestions.”
A sophomore student, Dakota Dalton, felt excluded due to the fact that his nationality is Hawaiian, Warner said.
“We then brainstormed other possible options in order to make all students feel comfortable and excepted. The name we had come up with is "I.S.U." (Indigenous Students United). The group had already existed throughout my first year at Baraboo High School, but the group fizzled out along with the previous advisor who had moved and switched schools,” she said.
“Currently being a junior and realizing that I only have one more year remaining in my high school career, I quickly got nervous about the lack of leadership in the Native American students in the classes below me. I felt a sense of urgency to recreate this organization in hopes that it will continue on many, many years after I graduate,” Warner said.
Lorraine Reyes said that the people participating, or helped start it, believe in helping the younger students to have more of a support system.
“This group is just a stepping stone for what is to come,” Reyes said. “We all have a common goal of just wanting to have a place to go, a place where our heritage, culture, and different background are respected and we can all learn. I hope to offer what I didn’t have when I was an incoming freshman.”
Mary Mjelde, academic seminar teacher at Baraboo High School, is the adviser for the group. 
Mjelde said she was chosen because she was proctoring a test for a senior member, Lorraine Reyes, and they began talking about a need for a club. Meanwhile, another student, Destina Warner, spoke to the school’s athletic director about starting a club. He sent out an email to Mjelde, suggesting she become the advisor for the new club, and she accepted.
“I believe this group is important because we have a subpopulation of students with indigenous backgrounds that make their needs unique,” Mjelde said.
“They have graduation requirements that they need to meet to satisfy some aspects for the Ho-Chunk Nation. When talking with a couple of the student leaders in the group, we identified a need to build a stronger community within these students so they have the tools they need to be successful not only in school but in life after high school,” she said.
“We also want to build in a mentorship component in which the older students connect with indigenous students from the elementary and middle schools so they have support as they come up through the years,” Mjelde said.
Michelle Cloud and Joy Snake of the Ho-Chunk Nation Education Department offered a session at the group’s meeting on Wednesday, May 2.
Cloud and Snake provided information about the Financial Literacy Program, which all Ho-Chunk high school graduates must take and pass in order to receive their Children’s Trust Fund money.
Cloud and Snake explained how students needed to be at least 18, graduate high school, and pass the financial literacy course in order to receive their money. They demonstrated on the smartboard how to follow the lesson plans and to take the final test.
Also involved with the group is Damian Thundercloud from Ho-Chunk Youth Services.
“There are lots of good discussions going on about Legacy, wanting to leave something for their younger youth or siblings to have that they did not have while in high school, questions on how they can help with a senior banquet, fundraising, and a mentoring program,” Patti Reyes, Lorraine’s mother.
“We are aiming at helping build a stronger community for the indigenous students at Baraboo High School. We also will work together to complete paperwork they may need, attend activities, and address the unique needs of our indigenous students. We are in the building phases of the club, so we are working with the students and adult members of the Ho-Chunk Nation to figure out our priorities,” Mjelde said.
“I felt that it is important to have sort of an embassy, if you will, for the indigenous students at Baraboo High School to feel like they are not alone,” Warner said. “Only 67 percent of Native American students graduate each year. That seems like it’s not so bad but when compared to a national average of approximately 80 percent, it looks much more discouraging. Just by being Native American, we only have a 67 percent chance of graduating high school.”
She wants to do everything in her power to make sure all of her indigenous peers graduate. By being a role model in her community, she encourages students to succeed throughout their own high school career and on to post-high school education.
Even though the club has about 30 students, a large number of the members are seniors, Warner said. The only requirement for joining is that the person is an aboriginal to a particular race. This would include Hispanic, Pacific Islanders, Inuit, Asians Culture, and Native Americans.
“Some issues that are a problem in our school is just the lack of knowledge about our cultures and how impervious and insensitive some other students can be,” Warner said. “Some members are friends outside of the club, but there is a good amount that might have never even talked to other indigenous students if it weren't for the upbringing of this organization.”
The leaders of the group are working with the District II Ho-Chunk Youth Services to organize a graduation celebration for the Class of 2018. The date and place are still undetermined but they hope to capture that moment with our graduating seniors, Warner said.
“We recently had elections for the end of the school year just to get our club officially established and ready to go for the 2018-2019 school year. When choosing our advisor, I chose Mary Mjelde because she is willing, caring, and supportive and generally just wants the best for everyone. There were many good options but I felt that Mrs. Mjelde is a significant asset to this club.”
So far, everyone has given positive feedback about the new group.
“It helps us to come together as one,” said Aiden Estes, a sophomore. “We can come together socially and help each other.”