Wisconsin’s 33 Most Influential Native American Leaders for 2023, Part 1


    Just months after we published our first news stories in August 2015, we tried something new: we listed and published brief biographies of the state’s 28 Most Influential Black Leaders. People really liked it, shared it on social media, told us who else should have been on that list. Many asked me if we’d do another list the next year; I said yes, we probably would.

    We did more than that. That next year, we published another list of the state’s most influential Black leaders, as well as a list of the state’s most influential Latino leaders. Almost immediately, we started hearing an important and very reasonable question: what about the state’s Asian American and Indigenous leaders?

    We wanted to do those lists, but we wanted to do them right. It took us some time to build the authentic relationships within those communities, and to gain their trust. I’m glad and proud that we took that time and did that work; it resulted in us publishing those lists for the first time in 2020.

    This week we are proud to present the fourth annual edition of Wisconsin’s Most Influential Native American leaders.

    Every year, with every list, I’ve intended these lists to highlight the beauty of the diversity across our state. I want kids here in Wisconsin to see role models of people who are succeeding, to know that it’s possible for people of color to achieve great things here.

    This week we shine a statewide spotlight on the dedicated leaders of Wisconsin’s Indigenous communties. The people we highlight this week are elected leaders, business leaders and community leaders, doing difficult, important work, often in the face of discrimination and literally generations of oppression.

    We are also aware that this list, like every other, is not comprehensive. It’s obvious just from the number of nominations that there are far more than 33 influential Indigenous leaders doing good work in Wisconsin. We hope you will let us know about people in your community who we can include on future lists. For now, though, we just want to introduce you to a few of the people doing the work, often behind the scenes and without the accolades, across Wisconsin.

    You might know a few of these names, but there’s a good chance that most of them will be new to you. I urge you to get to know them. Reach out to those living and working in your communities. Learn from them, network, create partnerships. And spread the word — let others in your network know that we have people of all ethnicities living and working across Wisconsin to make sure everyone here can thrive.

    Henry Sanders
    CEO and Publisher

    Carla Vigue was appointed in January as director of tribal relations at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. A member of the Oneida Nation, she most recently served as director of communications, events and community engagement for the National Council of Urban Indian Health in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, she served for more than a decade as communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, where she developed and implemented a statewide strategy for engaging tribal veterans. Vigue also has held positions with the National Indian Gaming Association, the Wisconsin Department of Administration and the office of Governor Jim Doyle. She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1996 and a master’s degree in political science from Loyola University Chicago in 1998.

    Daniel Webster is manager of diversity, equity and inclusion at Walbec Group, a conglomerate of horizontal construction firms and related enterprises working across Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. He started in the road construction industry as a flagger and worked in traffic control during the Interstate 41 rebuild in Green Bay, all while earning a degree in business administration at St. Norbert College in DePere. He moved into a human resources role in the 1,700-employee company in 2018 and went on to earn an MBA, also from St. Norbert. In January, he was named the first DEI manager in the company’s 100-year history. He is a member of the Oneida Nation.

    Dominic Ortiz is CEO and general manager of Potawatomi Hotel and Casino in Milwaukee, a role to which he was appointed in July 2021. A member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation of Kansas, he previously served as Chief Financial Officer of Soaring Eagle Gaming Properties and Corporate Services in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. A graduate of the University of Kansas School of Business and the Harvard Business School’s General Manager/Executive Education program, he has 17 years of experience in a number of leadership positions at several tribal casino properties across the country.

    Dr. Heidi Nicholls is an assistant anthropology professor at UW Oshkosh and until recently served as the chair of the Indigenous Studies Committee and is the proud advisor to the Inter-Tribal Student Council (ITSC). She is an economic anthropologist teaching in anthropology, Indigenous studies and environmental studies who explores power dynamics, race, ethnicity and inequities.  She collaborates with a variety of stakeholders to offer diversity, equity and inclusion workshops and talks, was a part of the Voices of Vision podcast centered on social justice and served as a TEDx speaker on the importance of having the tough conversations. She sits on the board of the Higher Education Interest group through the Society for Applied Anthropology and much of her current research is exploring inclusivity at a predominately white institution. She has been afforded the honor to work with Jim Feldman and Elizabeth Barron on the Conversation, Sustainability and Environment collaborative program with Norway through the DIKU grant which begins this winter. Nicholls also is a part of the UWO interdisciplinary research team that is completing a grant through WiSys and was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant focused on harmful algal blooms, public perception and policy making. All are opportunities to center student research, development and leadership. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Cleveland State University and a doctorate at the State University of New York at Albany in 2014.

    Josie G. Lee is director of the Ho-Chunk Nation Museum and Cultural Center, a museum she helped open in 2020. An enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, she is an independent curator, artist, and museum consultant with over 10 years of experience. Her work has been featured at the Field Museum, La Crosse County Historical Society, Overture Center for the Arts, and more. holds a Masters of Arts in Museology from University of Washington and is currently a doctoral special student in Civil Society and Community Studies within the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    Nicole Soulier is Director of College Access and Experience Programs at Madison College, where she combines relationship building and project management to improve and increase the college’s engagement with historically underserved communities. An enrolled member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa from the Bad River Indian Reservation, she attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison to earn her undergraduate degree in Human Development & Family Studies and American Indian Studies. She later returned to the university to earn a graduate degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis with an emphasis on higher education and leadership in two-year schools. Nicole has worked in higher education for almost 15 years in enrollment services, curriculum management, and community engagement.

    Dr. Lois Stevens is an Assistant Professor of First Nations Studies and the First Nations Education Doctoral Program at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. She received her PhD from the University of Kansas in the Department of Geography. Growing up on the Oneida Reservation, she developed a deep appreciation for ancestral knowledge, community relationship, and an understanding of her impact on Mother Earth. As a researcher and geographer, her research interests involve the effects of environmental and climatic change on Indigenous food systems and Place-based adaptation within Indigenous communities. She is also invested in empowering Indigenous voices in academia by fostering a love for collaborative research and writing.

    Part 2 coming tomorrow!