The Wisconsin Indian Education Association (WIEA) Annual Awards Banquet was held on Saturday, April 27 at the Hotel Mead and Conference Center in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisc.  Ho-Chunk Nation tribal members Curtis and Sheila White Eagle were awarded Indian Parents of the Year.   

 “Curtis and Sheila are a great example of what Native parents are and should be when talking about parent involvement,” wrote Family Services Coordinator Heidi Elsen from Chahk Ha Chee (CHC) Nekoosa Head Start.     

Curtis and Sheila White Eagle are from Nekoosa, Wisconsin and have three children ages 16, 5, and 4.  They have been married since 2007 and have been together since 1996.  They have a daughter and two sons.     WIEA accepted nominations for Indian Parents of the Year who serve as dedicated natural role models, who are consistently proactive and involved in their children’s tribal cultural education, their academic school-based education, and their tribal community.     

 Further criteria included the parents must demonstrate a leadership role in community and education activities, serve as role models to other Indian parents and children through participation in community activities, active volunteer in school and community events, promotes American Indian culture and heritage throughout the community, and encourages parents and children to strive for personal excellence.   

 “Sheila had served as the CHC Head Start Parent Committee Chairperson in 2018.  Sheila is now serving as the Vice Chair for this committee.  Sheila has attended many Head Start events and shows other parents that her children’s education matters,” explained Elsen.  “She is supportive and is a great resource for other parents.” 

   “Curtis was awarded the ‘Most Involved Dad’ award in 2018,“ Elsen detailed. “And has attended every event and activity at Head Start again this year.  He has chaperoned field trips and volunteered in the Head Start classroom numerous times.  He has an amazing attitude towards life and is a calming strength around adverse situations that arise with small children.  He has an infectious sense of humor and has a personal relationship with many of the Head Start children.”     

Heidi Elsen nominated Curtis and Sheila White Eagle for Indian Parents of the Year to the WIEA Annual Awards Committee.  Nominations were open to American Indian and Alaskan Native parents living in Wisconsin.  Award recipients were determined by an awards selection committee comprised of WIEA members.   

WIEA’s mission is to promote and support education and educationally related opportunities for American Indian people in Wisconsin. Tribal Nations in Wisconsin include Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Brothertown Indians of Wisconsin, Forrest County Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk Nation, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Sokaogon (Mole Lake) Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, St. Croix Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation.   

 Both Curtis and Sheila were surprised with the award and didn’t know that they were nominated until a week or so before the Awards Banquet.     

“I didn’t even know that people noticed us.  I was just surprised, and it made my heart happy, all of our hard work, that somebody is noticing,” said Sheila White Eagle, daughter of the late Lambert Cleveland, Sr. and Lori Houghton.   “Yeah, somebody noticed and I’m sure there are probably more,” said Curtis White Eagle, son of the late Daniel White Eagle III and Marilyn White Eagle. 

   The couple spoke about how their house is a playground for the neighborhood children and how they depend on other parents for parenting advice.  They feel they have a great support system.     “I always grew up believing that it takes a village to raise a child,” said Sheila, the Office Manager at the Nekoosa Tribal Aging Unit.  “I’ve watched other parents around here raise their kids.  I learn things from them.”     “We have her mom and sister for support,” said Curtis, a Youth Coordinator at the Nekoosa Youth Center.  “I have a few brothers that have been staying with us.  They would stay for a while and help support.”   

 Curtis and Sheila experienced nine heartbreaking years of negative pregnancy tests and sought medical help to have another baby after their eldest was born.  Sheila decided to change her lifestyle by becoming less stressed and healthier.  Their doctors told them it would be a miracle, but they were later blessed with two more babies.   

 “I take extra care of them.  I make sure they know we love them,” said Sheila.  “Life isn’t always great.  It’s not always sunshine, but at the end of the day, I want our kids to know that we love them.”     Heidi Elsen wrote, “Both of their boys have attended Head Start with exceptional attendance.  This is a great testament to these parents.  They have shown their children the importance of education by making sure their children attend daily.”   

 Other Ho-Chunk Nation tribal members were recognized at the WIEA Awards Banquet in different categories.  Those categories and individuals were: Outstanding American Indian Student of the Year, Pre-K through 3rd Grade, Eve Plentywolf – Ho-Chunk Nation, 3rd Grade, Humke Elementary School; Outstanding American Indian Student of the Year, 4th through 7th Grade, Kaelyn Chasenah – Ho-Chunk Nation, 7th Grade, John Edwards Middle School; and Outstanding American Indian Elder of Year, Woodrow White – Ho-Chunk Nation.      

The Awards Banquet was held in conjunction with the 2019 WIEA Conference “12 Nations, 2 Worlds, 1 People.”  WIEA was formally organized in 1985 by a group of concerned Indian Educators to carry on the efforts of the former Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council Education subcommittee.  The Association has seven regions throughout the state.     

The couple nearly elected not to attend the Awards Banquet.  The banquet was held on the same night as their daughter’s prom and their daughter was planning on attending prom.  Heidi Elsen urged the couple to go and explained the nomination for Indian Parents of the Year to Sheila.    

 “Whenever there is a need for assistance, these two usually come through and step up to the challenge,” Heidi Elsen explained about Curtis and Sheila White Eagle.