UW-La Crosse Alumna receives state’s MLK Heritage Award for contributions as author, educator, journalist
Growing up and attending grade school in Wisconsin, UW-La Crosse 1974 graduate Patty Loew learned little to nothing about Native Americans.
“I vaguely remember something about Paleolithic hunters … Native Americans being involved in the fur trade, and then, they disappeared from history,” she recalls. “There was a huge gap.”
Loew, an award-winning author, educator, documentarian and journalist, has dedicated a good portion of her career to filling that gap.
Her contributions as a leader and change maker haven’t gone unnoticed. On Jan. 21, Gov. Tony Evers presented Loew with Wisconsin’s2019 MLK Heritage Award during a statewide broadcast ceremony honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the State Capitol. Along with Loew, Bernice Parks also accepted the annual MLK Heritage Award on behalf of her daughter, Sandra Parks, who was killed by a stray bullet in her Milwaukee home.
Loew’s books have become foundational texts for Wisconsin’s public educators to guide their instruction of the First Nations of Wisconsin, a state mandate for K-12 educators, explains Aaron Bird Bear, assistant dean of Student Diversity Programs for UW-Madison’s School of Education.
Two of Loew’s books — “Native Peoples of Wisconsin” and “Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal” — are the first two books the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and The American Indian Curriculum Services unit in UW-Madison’s School of Education recommend to educators, adds Bird Bear.
“They are the first comprehensive textbooks developed in collaboration with the First Nations of Wisconsin,” he says. “Patty went to each of the first nations and consulted with elders and leaders. I think that is an amazing innovation … I think that’s what makes them so special.”
Loew, a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, says her work as an author began because of the lack of histories of Native Americans written by Native people. The histories she found were written by explorers, traders and others who intersected with Native Americans and were more reflective of the histories of those groups, she adds.
Loew’s books share Native American history the way Native Americans share it. They rely on historical perspectives from Native people and she reconstructs the past through pictographs, song, dance and stories. Instead of telling history based on time (from beginning to end), the stories she shares are based on place such as a sacred stone or a rice bed.
Loew has also increased awareness about Native American history, culture, treaty rights, values of environmental protection and more in ways beyond books. She had an extensive career as a host and anchor at Wisconsin Public Television and produced numerous documentaries, including the award-winning “Way of the Warrior,”which aired nationally on PBS in 2007 and 2011.
Kathy Bissen, associate director and chief operating officer at WPT, calls Loew a “diligent researcher with an intellectual curiosity and ability to masterfully put together the puzzle pieces she discovers to reveal the multi-layered truths that make up our world and our history.”
Loew has also used her media skills to teach digital storytelling skills to Native American youth with the goal of building the next generation of Native American environmentalists and land stewards. “She is implanting this connection to land and place as their ancestors had, and reminding them of the pressures on the environment and what we can do to protect it,” says Bird Bear.
After her career as a journalist, she transitioned into a career in higher education — first as a professor at UW-Madison and today at Northwestern University. She is also director of the university’s Center for Native American and Indigenous Research.
When Loew transitioned into education, Bissen says she was initially sad viewers would no longer benefit from the great work she created. But, she adds, that initial reaction was short sighted. “Her transition into teaching the next generation of journalists, community leaders, and thoughtful members of society, has had an even more profound effect — and will continue to do so long into the future,” says Bissen.
Loew has received numerous other awards over the years, among them UWL’s Maurice O. Graff Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2011, which recognizes alumni who have brought honor and distinction to the university. Loew laughs recalling how UWL Chancellor Joe Gow, when presenting the award, joked about her potential record for the most major changes as a student at UWL. But Loew says that experience exploring topics such as English, history and political science before finding her love of journalism, gave her solid preparation for her career in journalism. This career involved interviewing countless politicians and covering the state capitol, prior to her work on books and documentaries.
Perhaps the single most impactful experience of her college career was studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. The year, 1973-74, produced no shortage of American news headlines — from Watergate to the Wounded Knee incident in South Dakota, she recalls.
“To live abroad and see the U.S. through the eyes of foreign press… I think it gave me more context for American politics and instilled in me this real love of political science, which was important to me in my career in news,” says Loew.
For about two decades, Loew hosted the televised portion of the annual MLK celebration at the state capitol. To now be part of that group of award recipients is “overwhelming” and “humbling,” she says.
“These things give you pause to reflect on what is important to you and to rededicate yourself to the work that continues to need to be done,” she says.
ABOUT PATTY LOEW
Patty Loew, director of Native American and Indigenous Research at Northwestern University and a professor in the Medill School of Journalism, is a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe.
Loew is a former broadcast journalist in public and commercial TV. She is the author of Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal, now in its second edition, which won the Wisconsin Library Association’s 2002 Outstanding Book Award; Native People of Wisconsin, also newly revised and expanded, which is used by 20,000 Wisconsin school children as a social studies text; and Teachers Guide to Native People of Wisconsin.
Her latest book, Seventh Generation Earth Ethics, won the 2014 Midwest Book Award for Culture.Loew has produced many documentaries for public and commercial TV, including the award-winning Way of the Warrior, which aired nationally on PBS in 2007 and 2011. For 20 years, she hosted news and public affairs programs, including WeekEnd and In Wisconsin, for Wisconsin Public Television.
Loew has written extensively about Ojibwe treaty rights, sovereignty, and the role of Native media in communicating indigenous world views. Her documentaries have explored cultural expression through sports like baseball (Tinkers to Evers to Chief) and lacrosse (Sacred Stick), as well as contemporary resistance to environmental threats (Protect Our Future).
She works extensively with Native youth, teaching digital storytelling skills as a way to grow the next generation of Native storytellers and land stewards. She is a former member of the national board of directors for both UNITY: Journalists of Color and the Native American Journalists Association. Prior to her position at Northwestern University, Loew was a professor at the UW-Madison. She is professor emerita at UW-Extension, and is an Honorary Fellow in the Department of Civil Society and Community Studies in the UW-Madison School of Human Ecology. In 2011 Loew received the Graff Distinguished Alumni Award from UWL and in 2010, Outstanding Woman of Color awards from both UW-Madison and the UW System. She holds honorary doctorates from Edgewood and Northland Colleges.
Watch or listen to the Martin Luther King Day Celebration on Wisconsin Public TV.