David J. O’Connor encourages educators to not just “teach about cultures” but to “teach culturally.” A member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe) in northern Wisconsin, O’Connor diligently promotes the education and empowerment of all students and educators throughout Wisconsin in his role as American Indian Studies Consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
“David is a keen education professional who engages hearts and minds in unmasking the pain in the Native American community, and presents joy and boldness, especially when it comes to our youth and educators,” E-Ben Grisby, member of the Wisconsin Education Association Council’s Human and Civil Rights Committee, describes O’Connor. His job involves both ensuring that Native students receive an equitable education and helping non-Native people learn about Native American and Indigenous cultures as required under Wisconsin state law. Wisconsin Act 31 promotes an unflinchingly honest educational approach toward dispelling the toxic historical inaccuracies, myths, and stereotypes around Native cultures. This act was born in response to the racist attacks of the Ojibwe Peoples in the 1980s, and its goal is to use an honest education to combat racism. O’Connor strives to ensure that all communities see how their histories and cultures are connected and interdependent, and he encourages educators to be long-term agents of change for empowering learners, regardless of who they are or where they live.
In addition to his work in Wisconsin, where there are 12 Indigenous nations, O’Connor is also involved supporting educators nationwide through presentations with the National Indian Education Association. His work upholds the legacy of Leo Reano—member of the Santo Domingo Indian Pueblo, teacher, artist, and interpreter. Serving on the All Indian Pueblo Council and the NEA Council on Human Relations, Reano dedicated his life to securing educational opportunities for American Indian and Alaska Native children.
O’Connor explains his duty is to train educators to teach culturally, “an educator becomes a guide with [their] students—meaning learn[ing] with them, not always teaching them.” He wholeheartedly believes that representation in education and scholarship matters. To support this, he leads over 100 workshops annually training educators on best practices for teaching Indigenous issues in Wisconsin. O’Connor describes, “Depending on the words we choose, we impact how information is perceived and accepted as truth.” For this reason, teaching various perspectives from diverse voices is important. O’Connor’s focus is on Native issues, but he actively cares about the wellbeing of students of all ethnic backgrounds by emphasizing resilience and teaching an honest education bringing forth all histories to support all students.