Welcome, Professor Patty Loew, PhD, to the Barn Door.
Patty is a professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication, documentary producer, and former broadcast journalist in public and commercial television. A member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, she is the author of three books: Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal, Native People of Wisconsin, which is used by 15,000 Wisconsin school children as a middle school social studies textbook, and Seventh Generation Earth Ethics, a collection of biographies of Native American environmental leaders in Wisconsin. She has produced many documentaries for public and commercial television, including the award-winning Way of the Warrior, which aired nationally on PBS in 2007 and 2011. Watch the episode here. Her outreach work focuses on Native American youth and digital storytelling. Visit her website.
What led you to specialize in Communications?
You know, I really just stumbled into it. I was a physical education major at UW-La Crosse and thought I'd be a gym teacher. I had grown up in Milwaukee in a neighborhood of boys and was pretty competitive. But I was excited by every class I took in college, so I kept changing majors--history, political science, theater, recreation, English, Speech. It was crazy, but I was responsible in my craziness, taking time to fill out the paperwork every time I changed direction. Finally, I went to a counseling and testing center, and, after a battery of tests, discovered that I had a short, but intense attention span. The counselor suggested journalism, where I could explore all my interests. I took my first communication class and that was it. I was hooked. I have never regretted the decision to become a journalist. It enriched my life and gave me access to people and places I never otherwise would have been able to experience. It was a pretty seamless transition from journalism to academia. The research skills are the same, the daily writing, the emphasis on facts rather than opinions—all of this was very similar. My academic interest was history, so this too felt familiar. I’ve always thought that journalists write the first drafts of history—“late-breaking” history— you might say.
What are your main goals as a Professor, as a Communicator, and as a member of the Bad River Band?
I want to learn from people who love their craft (whatever it is). I enjoyed being a journalist and want to communicate that joy, along with the techniques, the obligations, and the ethics of telling stories. I want my students to get excited about what they’re learning. I want to tell the stories of people who can’t tell their own stories—the people who lack power and access, people like Native Americans. I’ve been working with the young people of Bad River to teach them digital storytelling techniques. Our community has been under assault from mining companies and factory farms. We’re trying to protect our natural resources and our cultural way of life. I want to help grow the next generation of storytellers and land stewards.
What is the hardest part of your work today?
I work with such dedicated people at all levels of the University, but we’re staggering under the weight of unprecedented budget cuts. More students, fewer professors, fewer classes offered, larger classes (mine have gone from 20 to 60 students over the past 10 years), fewer positions for graduate students, cutbacks in routine maintenance for public spaces and offices, etc. It’s demoralizing. I see other universities investing in people and in new technology and I really worry that we are losing our competitive advantage and allowing one of the greatest university systems in the country and perhaps the world to decline.
What do you love most about your efforts as a writer and producer?
When I actually have time to write or produce a film, I feel a little guilty, like I’m getting away with something. I enjoy teaching and my outreach activities, but research and writing is so stimulating. I just wish I could have an extended period of time—say, six months to do nothing but write. My writing now takes place at night or on weekends, so I’m sacrificing sleep or family time to do it.
Can you share anything about your next project?
I'm working on a revised Teachers Guide to Native People of Wisconsin. Native People is the middle school textbook I wrote that is used by about 18,000 fourth and fifth graders in Wisconsin. There is an educational mandate (Act 31) that requires all schools to teach about Wisconsin Indian history, culture, sovereignty, and treaty rights. This book is used to meet that mandate. The Teachers Guide is almost finished and should come out this year.
Thank you, Professor Loew, for visiting the BarnDoor and sharing about yourself and the educational work going on today in Wisconsin. Visit Patty's website and Amazon Page to read more about her books, or check out Wisconsin Historical Press for Seventh Generation and her other work, and take time to watch the film, Way of the Warrior.