UW-Madison occupies ancestral Ho-Chunk land, a place their nation has called Teejop (Four Lakes) since time immemorial. The United States is home to 574 federally recognized Indigenous nations speaking 169 Indigenous languages today, and Wisconsin is home to 11 federally recognized Indigenous nations speaking six Indigenous languages, as well as the Brothertown Indian Nation (unrecognized today by state or federal governments).
Our world is home to a diverse array of Indigenous people with unique cultures and languages. Indigenous people comprise four to five percent of the global population from more than 90 countries, and Indigenous people continue to protect and steward 80% of the Earth’s current biodiversity. Various cultures have become identified as Indigenous because of our world’s history of European colonialism and conquest. UW’s Our Shared Future marker notes that this history of colonization informs our shared future of collaboration and innovation. It also informs the experiences you may have abroad as an Indigenous student.
As you make your plans, know that some study abroad locations may not have the same concept of Indigenous nations and peoples as we do. For example, in some South American countries, the majority of the present-day country’s population may be considered Indigenous. In other locations, the present-day country’s government may not define Indigenous in the same way we do, which can limit official recognition (and people’s knowledge) of an Indigenous nation or group. In some cases, governments may not recognize the status of Indigenous groups at all. You can learn more about Indigenous groups and nations native to your study abroad location at Native Land. If you study abroad somewhere that gives you the opportunity to interact with local Indigenous people, you may find that your background improves your ability to connect and understand what life is like for them.
(NOTE: “American” as a term: https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/what-does-american-actually-mean/276999/ “”‘American’ is a multi-layered word, of which the meaning varies depending on context, and which can illustrate a form of set theory: all Americans (of the U.S.) are American, and yet all Americans [i.e. of the continent] are not American (of the U.S.)!”)
Your own values, experiences and family legacy may inform how you identify as a citizen of the United States, and how your sense of nationality fits into your overall identity. You might identify yourself as a citizen or descendant of your Indigenous Nation, first and foremost. Depending on the country in which you study, people abroad may think of you as exclusively “American” once they find out you are from the United States. On the other hand, they may not immediately recognize you as an “American” on the street, either. Before going abroad, it may be helpful to think about what stereotypes exist about US citizens– and what they are based on. People in other countries sometimes get their ideas about being an “American” through media, TV shows, and movies, and they may hold stereotypes because of these depictions. They may also hold stereotypes of Indigenous people due to similar, stereotypical portrayals in media.
The United States has a painful history of assimilation efforts that sought to eradicate Indigenous language and culture by attempts to forcibly conform Indigenous people to White, European American culture. You may find it frustrating to confront stereotypes abroad, where people might expect US citizens to be White and model a kind of monoethnic “mainstream” culture. People you meet may ask questions or make assumptions that are completely inaccurate – but bear in mind it is possible that you are the first Indigenous person they have ever met. It’s best to assume good intentions and curiosity unless you know otherwise. It’s likely you’ll have the chance to share your culture with others while abroad and you will want to think about how (and to what degree) you will discuss your background and identity. You may find it empowering to explain that your family/ancestors and Indigenous Nation(s) have been in the Western Hemisphere for time immemorial, for thousands of years, long before the United States was established, and that your language, culture, and traditions are American and are continuing.
I felt like I fit right in, and that my Native American background was appreciated. -Australia participant
We know that for some of you, your family may play a role in your decision making. Some of you may have families that travel frequently. For others, your family may not travel at all. We encourage you to share your plans with your family and talk through any questions they may have. Share the benefits, your goals, and research you’ve done. Make a game plan with them, if that is what works best for your family. Our staff can help you prepare for this conversation.
Before you depart for your program, take time to think about how you will react and respond if you experience misunderstandings or ignorance about your identity so that you are more prepared and confident in addressing them. These kinds of microaggressions are probably not a new experience for you, but they will occur in a different environment and may come at unexpected times.
Your experience will be unique to you. Since UW-Madison is a predominately White institution, if you are participating on a program that has other UW students present, the odds are that most of them will be White. Non-White students have found this challenging because their White UW-Madison peers may not encounter the same types of challenges, and their typical support networks are at a distance. Think about how you will take care of yourself and your mental health while abroad. Use the self-care and resilience strategies you use in the U.S. while you are abroad. Depending on the status of Indigenous people in your program location, there may be student organizations or other local networks you can plug into to feel supported. If you need help processing your experience, reach out to people you trust in your program and at home, to on-site staff, and to your Study Abroad Advisor for assistance. Your program experience will be unique to you, and our staff is here to help you.
Interested in taking coursework abroad that has content focusing on Indigenous history and culture? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Massey University (New Zealand): Check out Massey’s list of most popular courses on New Zealand history, society, and peoples, which includes many courses on Maori history and culture.
University of Auckland – Engineering (New Zealand): The University of Auckland permits Engineering students to take Maori Studies or Pacific Studies alongside STEM coursework.
University of Queensland – Engineering (Australia): Engineering students have access to courses on Indigenous studies alongside STEM coursework.
Monash University (Australia): Monash offers a wide range of courses, including the Great Southern Land: Australian and Indigenous Cultures study abroad specialization. This specialization highlights courses with a particular focus on diverse cultural and social topics unique to Australia.
University of Sydney (Australia): Offers class options in Indigenous Studies, among many other options. The Department of Indigenous Studies states, “We draw on strength and guidance from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge, one of the oldest knowledge systems in the world, and we welcome students of all nationalities who wish to engage with and learn about Australian Indigenous culture.”
UW Wellbeing through Indigenous Knowledge and Environmental Health (Ecuador): This program focuses on the synergies that exist between artisan traditions, income generation, protection of the environment and sustainable wellbeing for both rural indigenous populations and communities of the Intag Valley of Ecuador.
UW Global Health Field School in Ecuador (Ecuador): This program emphasizes cultural context as a prism through which to understand health and healing. Visits to indigenous communities in the region – typically Pijal, La Calera, and Zuleta – allow students to investigate the complex ecological, socioeconomic, political, and biomedical factors influencing health in Ecuador.
SIT Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment (Chile): Students on this program will spend some time with the Mapuche and Aymara communities in order to learn about Indigenous and intercultural medicine and examine how healthcare policies and politics affect Indigenous people.
This site offers tips and insights related to multicultural issues while studying abroad.
This site offers mentors who are students, parents, and advisers and are comfortable with addressing diversity concerns in the context of learning abroad. Also available are specific resources for African American, Asian Pacific Islander American, Hispanic American and Native American students.
This site contains a map of Indigenous lands across the world and includes links to articles, official sites, and social media pages for different groups of Native people.
We ask students to share their experiences on how various parts of their identity impacted them while they were abroad in their program evaluations. The quotes above are tips and advice given by Badgers about their individual experiences and thoughts. These do not represent all experiences in a location. Our staff is happy to talk with you about any questions you may have.