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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Courtesy of Althea Dotzour/University of Wisconsin-Madison

Q&A: UW-Madison Director of Tribal Relations Carla Vigue discusses career, upbringing, plans for the future

Vigue plans to take experience as a public servant to raise awareness about different Indigenous cultures and histories, and further how the university and tribal nations can connect and help each other.

Carla Vigue, a member of Oneida Nation, was appointed as the director of tribal relations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, starting on Jan. 23.

Vigue has extensive experience working in public service and with Native tribes, having previously worked in Washington, D.C. for the National Council of Urban Indian Health as well as for the state of Wisconsin in multiple positions. 

The director role, previously held by Aaron Bird Bear, works to build relationships and partnerships between the tribes of Wisconsin and the university. 

This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What led you to taking on this new position?

The director of tribal relations position is really a tremendous opportunity to bring together a world class university with the tribes here in Wisconsin. It is a chance to build bridges and provide opportunity for tribal communities while also providing opportunity for people on campus to learn more about the tribes that are here in Wisconsin, and their culture and history.

How has being a member of the Oneida nation influenced your life?

I grew up in Oneida, which is outside of Green Bay, and my family's house is about 10 minutes from Lambeau Field. Growing up in a small community like Oneida was really good for me; I had so many supporters throughout my life. We had elected tribal leaders who helped me do the things that I wanted to achieve. 

When I went to college and when I wanted to move to Washington, D.C. and do some work there, so many of the tribal leaders from Oneida were so supportive and helpful. When I was in Washington, D.C., the tribal leaders would come and I would take them around Capitol Hill or to meetings and federal agencies. I feel like I'm here because of all of the people who have supported me throughout my career — not just from my own tribe, but from many different tribes. That support of leaders from my community was crucial to my career.

What inspired you to work in tribal relations and with Native communities?

I've always wanted to give back to my community and the Native communities who have supported me. It’s really in my blood to want to do something good for the people back in Oneida and for the other tribal communities. I just really enjoy being out among the people on the reservations and throughout Wisconsin tribes.

What was your career like prior to accepting this position?

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Following grad school, I started out my career in Washington, D.C. working for and advocating for tribes while helping them with economic development and turning that into things like schools, health facilities or programming for the tribal communities. 

Then, I moved back to Wisconsin because I'm from Oneida and started working for the state of Wisconsin, so I've been a public servant for most of my life. I believe strongly in doing work that helps my community and other communities achieve their goals and thrive. When the opportunity came to be here at UW-Madison and build on my career, I took it.

What would you like to bring to the role as director of tribal relations?

We're kind of coming out of the pandemic, I wouldn't say it's over yet — knock on wood. But one of the things that I'm working on right now is planning to go out to visit each of the tribes out in their own communities and have discussions about the university and ways we can help them and ways they can help us. So my first goal is [to] really get out and have discussions with people. Also, here on campus, it's always good to raise awareness about different cultures and histories, so hopefully I can do a little bit of that too.

Is there anything that you would like to tell UW-Madison students and Daily Cardinal readers?

Yes, get to know your fellow students there. I know there aren't a ton of Native students on campus, but there are many Native students on campus who come from amazing communities who have a lot of history behind them. Attend some of the cultural events on campus, and use this time to learn more about the tribes and the people who are the backbone of the state.

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