Tribal Relations or Tribal Liaison offices are located in over 20 universities in the United States today, including the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In 2015, UW-Madison hosted the elected leadership of the 12 First Nations of Wisconsin for purposes of establishing long term relationships for the first time in the university’s history at the Native Nations-UW Summit on the Environment and Health, two areas of interest shared by tribal nations.

Following the 2015 summit, the Native Nations UW-Madison (NNUW) Working Group and NNUW Tribal Advisory Council were established. Based on input from the American Indian Nations of Wisconsin and the Tribal Advisory Council, the NNUW Working Group created the 2017-2019 Native Nations-UW Strategic Plan with seven areas: 1) Relationship Building; 2) Education Pathways; 3) Native Campus Climate; 4) Research Relationships; 5) Environment and Natural Resources; 6) Language and Culture; and 7) Health.

Included in the 2017-2019 strategic plan was a request for a Tribal Relations Director to facilitate regular communication between tribal governments and university officials, similar to the Director of Federal Relations and Director of State Relations at UW-Madison.

In 2019, the Tribal Relations Director position was created at UW–Madison with joint appointments in the Office of University Relations and the Division of Extension. As part of the Office of University Relations, Tribal Relations focuses on building and nurturing relationships with tribal nations and communities, along with building relationships with the organizations and entities created by tribal nations and communities. As part of the Division of Extension (UWEX), Tribal Relations focuses on connecting tribal nations and tribal communities with university faculty, staff, and students for support, programming, and services. The Division of Extension includes the UWEX Native American Task Force, tribal educators, and Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program (FRTEP) educators with extensive networks and specialized expertise for working with tribal nations and communities.

The Tribal Relations Director, the Indigenous Education Coordinator in the Office of the Provost, and Prof. Annie Jones (Menominee) from the Division of Extension provide leadership for Phase 2 of the NNUW Initiative Phase Two (2021-2025) which includes the NNUW Working Group implementation team, the Native Nations UW-Madison Tribal Advisory Council, and the NNUW Community of faculty, staff, and students.

Focus areas for the second phase of Native Nations UW-Madison (NNUW) initiative (2021-2025) include:

  1. Indigenous Student Well-Being.
  2. Curricular Infusion and Indigenization.
  3. Indigenous Language Infusion and Revitalization.
  4. Proposed Indigenous Research Center (working title).
  5. Indigenous Placemaking.
  6. Indigenous Land Acknowledgments.
  7. Native Education Pathways.

Native Nations UW-Madison Working Group implementation team (2021-2023 two-year terms within the 2021-2025 NNUW Initiative):

NNUW Initiative Leadership: Aaron Bird Bear (Diné/Three Affiliated), Prof. Annie Jones (Menominee), and Omar Poler (Sokaogon Ojibwe).

  • Cal Bergman, Associate Dean for Student Academic Affairs, College of Letters and Science (L&S).
  • Micaela Salas (Bad River Ojibwe), Financial Aid Advisor & Basic Needs Specialist, Office of Student Financial Aid
  • Brian Fox, Assoc. Vice Chancellor for Research Policy and Integrity, Office of Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (OVCRGE).
  • Gabe Javier, Assoc. Vice Chancellor, Dean of Students Office.
  • Jeff Novak, Director of Housing.
  • Paul Robbins, Dean, Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies.
  • Catherine Chan – Assistant Vice Provost for High Impact Practices, Division of Diversity, Equity, & Educational Achievement (DDEEA).
  • Denise Wiyaka (Ihanktonwan), Director of American Indian Studies.
  • Danielle Yancey (Menominee & Santee Sioux), Director of Native American Center for Health Professions (NACHP), School of Medicine & Public Health (SMPH).

Student representatives:

  • Morgan James Spohn (Ho-Chunk), Indigenous Law Students Association.
  • Karen Itzel Suarez Jimenez (Zapotec), alternate for Indigenous Law Students Association.
  • TBD, Wunk Sheek Native American Student Group.


Aaron Bird Bear

Aaron Bird Bear

Director, Tribal Relations



Aaron Bird Bear is a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa & Diné Nations (enrolled in the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation) and has served as the Director of Tribal Relations at the University of Wisconsin–Madison since November 2019.

Bird Bear came to UW–Madison in 2000 as the American Indian Student Academic Services coordinator in the College of Letters & Science. From 2009 to November 2019, he worked in the School of Education, most recently as an assistant dean responsible for leadership around recruiting, supporting and retaining historically underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students. His role as an assistant dean included overseeing the American Indian Curriculum Services unit, which coordinates the school’s efforts to integrate American Indian Studies into teacher education programs. In that role, Bird Bear co-created WisconsinFirstNations.org to help PK-12 educators identify quality resources to teach the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the 12 American Indian Nations of Wisconsin.

In 2003, Bird Bear helped develop the UW-Madison First Nations Cultural Landscape Tour, a place-based, experiential education tour of American Indian landmarks on the UW–Madison campus. He currently co-leads the Our Shared Future Initiative that is creating signs honoring the Native presence on campus, including the new “Our Shared Future” marker on Bascom Hill that recognizes the land as the ancestral home of the Ho-Chunk.

Bird Bear earned a bachelor’s degree in physical oceanography from the University of Washington in Seattle and a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy analysis from UW–Madison.

Father – Duane T. Bird Bear (Mandan & Hidatsa – Knife Clan)

Mother – R. Carol Harvey (Diné)

  • Mother’s Maternal Clan: Kinyaa’áanii – Towering House
  • Mother’s Paternal Clan: Kin ł ichii’nii – Red House

Maternal Grandparents – Nawood Kinłichii’nii (Robert Harvey) and Carolyn Harvey

Paternal Grandparents – Inez Grinnell (Mandan – Prairie Chicken Clan) and Theodore ‘Ralph’ Bird Bear (Hidatsa)