Indian Community School


In 1970, three Oneida women—Marjorie (Powless) Stevens, Marge Funmaker, and Darlene Neconish—took it upon themselves to offer an alternative education for disillusioned Native youth in Milwaukee.[1] Born of their frustrations with the public school system, discrimination against Native American students, and a lack of cultural direction, the Oneida women opened their homes to indigenous children and taught a curriculum that privileged Native histories, cultures, and communities. What started as ten students quickly grew into dozens, and the homeschooling operation moved to larger quarters in the basement of the Church of All People.[2]

In August 1971, the local chapter of the American Indian Movement (AIM) occupied an abandoned Coast Guard station along the Milwaukee lakefront in an effort to raise awareness about Native American issues while also claiming that property by right of treaty.[3] After negotiations with AIM members, both the city and Bureau of Indian Affairs agreed to hand control of that facility over to the organization on the grounds that the building would be used as a cultural, educational, and community center. By September, Stevens, Funmaker, and Neconish relocated their school to the station and provided instructional services to more than seventy Native students. That same year the school was incorporated as a nonprofit institution known as the Indian Community School of Milwaukee.[4]

Inspired by AIM’s “survival schools” in Minneapolis, the Indian Community School revolved around a historically and culturally-relevant curriculum for Native youth.[5] In addition, the school encouraged collaboration with the local indigenous community, attracted teachers and volunteers from Wisconsin reservations and Native students at UWM, and flourished under the directorship of Dorothy LePage (Menominee). As LePage put it, parents sent “their children [here]…to learn about their Indian heritage.”[6] However, beginning in 1978, the Indian Community School faced chronic financial shortages that forced it to move into the derelict Bartlett Avenue School (2964 N. Bartlett Avenue) in 1980. Because fiscal troubles remained persistent, the school eventually closed its doors in 1983.[7]

Yet this did not deter indigenous leadership, led by women like Loretta Ford (Ojibwe), who found the means to sell the Bartlett Avenue location and then purchase the former site of Concordia College (3134 W. State Street), where the Indian Community School reopened in January 1987.[8]  To prevent financial instability, the board negotiated with the Forest County Potawatomi for a twenty-year lease that was finalized in 1990. The tribe agreed to pay operating expenses for the school in exchange for land in the Menominee River Valley where Potawatomi Hotel & Casino is located today.[9] In 1999, the board purchased land in the town of Franklin, where construction on a new school building began in 2005. The Indian Community School opened its doors for the 2007 school year at 10405 W. St. Martins Road, where today it provides tuition-free education to students from fifteen different tribal backgrounds, offers instruction in three Native languages, and “develops the skills and knowledge to sustain a healthy balance of American Indian culture, academic achievement, and a sense of identity.”[10]

Footnotes [+]

  1. ^ Indian Community School Weekly Report, vol. 41, issue 23 (February 20, 2014): 1; Yvonne Kaquatosh, “‘We Are Home’: Ceremony Held at New Milwaukee Indian Community School,” Kalihwisaks: Official Newspaper of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin (Oneida, WI), September 13, 2007, p. 5A.
  2. ^ Susan Applegate Krouse, “What Came out of the Takeovers: Women’s Activism and the Indian Community School of Milwaukee,” in Keeping the Campfires Going: Native Women’s Activism in Urban Communities, eds. Susan Applegate Krouse and Heather A. Howard (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), 148.
  3. ^ Antonio J. Doxtator and Renee J. Zakhar, American Indians in Milwaukee (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2011), 69-71.
  4. ^ Krouse, “What Came out of the Takeovers,” 148-149.
  5. ^ Nicolas G. Rosenthal, Reimagining Indian Country: Native American Migration & Identity in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 146. For specifics about AIM “survival schools,” see Julie L. Davis, Survival Schools: The American Indian Movement and Community Education in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).
  6. ^ Karen Rothe, “Community News: School Teaches Past, Present of Indian Life,” Milwaukee Sentinel, September 21, 1981, p. 6.
  7. ^ Krouse, “What Came out of the Takeovers,” 151-152.
  8. ^ Krouse, “What Came out of the Takeovers,”, 153.
  9. ^ Krouse, “What Came out of the Takeovers,”, 154-155.
  10. ^Vision Statement” & Homepage, Indian Community School of Milwaukee, last accessed August 7, 2017.

For Further Reading

Davis, Julie L. Survival Schools: The American Indian Movement and Community Education in the Twin Cities. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

Doxtator, Antonio J., and Renee J. Zakhar. American Indians in Milwaukee. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2011.

Krouse, Susan Applegate. “What Came out of the Takeovers: Women’s Activism and the Indian Community School of Milwaukee.” In Keeping the Campfires Going: Native Women’s Activism in Urban Communities, edited by Susan Applegate Krouse and Heather A. Howard, 146-162. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2009.

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  1. Mountain73 says:

    My name is Phil Bautista. I was the Vice-Chairman of the Indian Community School of Milwaukee Inc. since 1983 to 1989. I would like to say that what Antonio Doxtator and Renee Zakhar state in the history of the school since 1983 is totally not factual as Loretta Ford who I had known since childhood brought me on to the board to help them re-open the school as they were totally in arrears and did not know what to do. In fact Loretta asked me at the first board meeting if I would be the chairman. I declined and said I would be vice-chairman and take the ball and run with it until the school re-opened. As I made all the contacts for funding none of them were present. I see what Antonio and Renee state is very vague with no mention of facts. All I see is people taking credit and giving credit to people who were not even there. The years of work I did and not even a mention. My name is on all the legal documents for what happened and not theirs. If you want the true story and not one that is fabricated contact me by email at philbautistasr@yahoo.com