Every year since our founding six years ago, we have recognized Wisconsin’s most influential Black and Latino leaders. In 2020, we extended that recognition to our Native American and Asian American brothers and sisters. These lists have become the most anticipated thing we do. Every year, 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 African Americans and Latinos to achieve great things here.
Every year, people tell me we’ll run out of people to recognize. And every year, after we publish our list, I get emails and texts with more names: why did you leave out this person, how did you miss that person. And every year it becomes clear: there are more people of every ethnicity in Wisconsin doing the real work than we could ever recognize.
This week we shine a statewide spotlight on the dedicated leaders of Wisconsin’s Indigenous communities. The people we highlight this week are elected leaders, business leaders, community leaders, doing difficult, important work, often in the face of discrimination and literally generations of oppression.
And there will be more — later this year, we will publish new editions of our lists of the most powerful Black, Asian American and Latino leaders.
We are also aware that this list, like every other, is not comprehensive. There are, without a doubt, more than 39 influential Native American 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 this state a good and prosperous place for all.
Henry Sanders, Jr
CEO, 365 Media Foundation
Publisher, Madison365 and FoxValley365
Brigetta F. Miller is an associate professor of music at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, currently teaching courses in both Music Education and Ethnic Studies. Professor Miller is an enrolled member of the Stockbridge-Munsee (Mohican) Nation and a descendant of the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin. She supervises undergraduate pre-service teachers in area schools and enjoys integrating inclusive best practices into all of her coursework within the liberal arts and sciences context. She also serves as a faculty advisor for LUNA (Lawrence University Native Americans), a student organization focused on empowering and supporting Indigenous students to successfully navigate the college experience. She has also worked as a writing instructor and member of the Academic Steering Committee for the College Horizons Scholars Program based in New Mexico, an innovative academic success program designed to address retention and bolster the number of Native American, Alaskan Native, or Native Hawaiian students who enter and stay in the Ph.D. pathway. She earned a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from Lawrence University, a Masters of Music Education with a Kodaly emphasis from Silver Lake College, with a doctorate in progress. She remains in demand as a speaker of diversity-related issues at state, national, and international conferences.
Adrienne Thunder is director of the Hoocąk Waaziija Haci Language Division for the Ho-Chunk Nation, a role she’s held since 2016. The Language Division is dedicated to ensuring Hoocąk remains a “living language” through a language academy, language apprenticeship programs and a Hoocąk-language child care center. Prior to stepping into the directorship of the language division, Adrienne served for four years as the executive director of the Nation’s education department and 12 years as an academic advisor at UW-Madison. She holds a master’s degree in educational administration from UW-Madison, where she also expects to be granted a doctoral degree this year.
Tina Van Zile of Crandon is the environmental director of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community. In 2020, she was elected president of the Wisconsin Tribal Conservation Advisory Council (WTCAC), an association that provides a forum for the 11 Native American Tribes in Wisconsin to identify and solve natural resource issues on Tribal lands, and gives a voice to the Tribes on important conservation issues at the state and national levels. Tina has served on the Council as the Sokaogon-Mole Lake representative since 2001.
Jeff House is president and CEO of Oneida ESC Group, a family of companies, owned by the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, that delivers customer-focused engineering, science, and construction services worldwide. Jeff started his career at the Walt Disney Company and became the Assistant Marketing Director for Oneida Bingo & Casino. He pursued financial planning with the Oneida Trust Department and Oneida Nation Trust Funds, and in 2016 joined the management team at Oneida ESC Group LLC. He has a B.A. in Journalism from UW–Eau Claire.
Jon Greendeer is health and wellness coordinator for the Ho-Chunk Nation. He worked as a card dealer and musician, struggling with addiction, but has been sober for nearly 25 years. He went back to school at UW-Marathon County and then earned a bachelor’s degree from UW-Stevens Point in 2004. He was elected president of the Ho-Chunk Nation in 2011 and in 2012 delivered the State of the Tribes Address to the State Legislature. In 2018 UW-SP honored him as a Distinguished Alumnus.
Justine Rufus is Rural Coordinator with Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and Co-Chair of the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Task Force. She previously served as Bayfield County Outreach Program Coordinator for the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse. She has been working in the human services field for more than 12 years. In that time, she has helped establish two non-profit organizations, rewrite domestic violence codes for the Red Cliff tribe, as well as direct the Red Cliff Family Violence Program.
Skye Alloway is Language and Culture Manager of the Forest County Potawatomi Museum, Cultural Center and Library, and co-chair of the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Task Force. She also serves as co-chair of the Chancellor’s Commission on the Ancestors Buried Below Us at UW-Stevens Point, which will partner with UW-Stevens Point administration to establish a Cultural Resource Management Plan with various tribal nations in the region and oversee the creation of a permanent memorial for the Indigenous ancestors buried under the campus. She is also on the boards of Wisconsin Conservation Voters and HIR Wellness.
Part 2 coming tomorrow!