Students studied the threads of their family histories with social studies teacher Paul Rykken in Ho-Chunk and Ethnic Studies, a first-time course offered last semester.

“Every student in the class explores their own ancestry. Whatever race, nationality, or ethnicity they are. They have a major project where they explore their own background,” said Rykken.

The class was added to the curriculum this school year in affiliation with UW-Green Bay’s First Nations Studies program.

“There are two schools offering the course right now: Black River Falls and Prescott. We developed the course within the guidelines and tailored it to the Ho-Chunk tribe as well as added the component of Ethnic Studies to give the class a broader appeal,” said Rykken.

Speakers like Nehoma Thundercloud, Black River Falls School District School Board Member; Michelle Greendeer Rave, an attorney with the Ho-Chunk Nation; Amanda WhiteEagle, a judge within the Nation; Adrienne Thunder, Ho-Chunk Education Director; and Wilfred Cleveland came to the class to give students a better view on growing up in Black River Falls as well as the history of Ho-Chunk education.

“We did two portfolios for each semester and the first was to interview an elder. Interviewing an elder helped me to get a better understanding as to what it was like a couple of years before I was born and as well as when they were kids, too,” said junior Michaela Custodio.

Regardless of race, each student got a better idea of who they are as a person as well.

“The class helped me to see things in a different perspective and to realise how little I knew about Native American culture or history,” said senior Cody Wiesner.

Students learn about Ho-Chunk history starting with the pre-contact period up until the early 21 century, as well as race and ethnicity.

“This is a class where we really study, explore, try to understand, talk about, and discuss the concept of race and ethnicity. I think that’s healthy because we have a mixed population in our school and racial topics can be really challenging for some people,” said Rykken.

The Ho-Chunk Nation is headquartered in Black River Falls and Ho-Chunk and whites have lived in the Black River Falls area for seven generations, so Ho-Chunk history is Black River history.

“I think the class needs to be part of our school forever because our school is obviously tied closely to the Ho-Chunk Nation through our community,” said Rykken.

The lessons learned from the class also act as bridges to unify people.

“This class has helped me to be able to be on the same level with other Native Americans and to be able to talk to other Native Americans and be able to feel that you know what you know,” said Custodio.

The class is offered to students in grades 10, 11 and 12.

“I would recommend this class to Native Americans who are interested in it, but also people who really like history and would like to see it in a different perspective,” said Wiesner.