Madison indigenous community leaders shine in “Teejop & Beyond” presentation series

Madison indigenous community leaders shine in “Teejop & Beyond” presentation series

The Madison Public Library’s presentation program “Teejop & Beyond” highlights traditional stories, celebrates indigenous identity and builds community relationships.

Started in 2021, “Teejop & Beyond’' works in partnership with the Madison Public Library system and Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison to welcome nine presenters from Native American tribes across North America, including members of the Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Ottawa and Oneida Nations, to present at four local libraries in the Madison community. 

The theme of cultural interconnectedness is reflected in the name – “Teejop” (pronounced day-JOPE) represents the four lakes of Madison, while “Beyond” represents the surrounding communities. With 15 presentations taking place from October to December, the program works to highlight indigenous communities and celebrate Native American Heritage Month through storytelling, art and community. Presentations cover a wide range of topics, from mental health to climate change.

At the forefront of this program is Neeyati Shah, who works as a Community Engagement Librarian and coordinator of the “Teejop & Beyond” series with her team in the Madison Public Library System.

Originally based on the model of the storyteller program at the Vancouver Public Library, “Teejop & Beyond” first began in Madison during the fall of 2021 with Ho-Chunk storyteller-in-residence Andi Cloud and has continued to evolve since then..

For Shah, this program was necessary to promote an intercultural understanding and create a space for both indigenous healing and community connection. 

“The goal is to create relationships and share diverse experiences,” Shah said. “It’s about telling these stories, gathering feedback and growing from it.” 

Shah believes that through organizing interactive workshops and storytelling sessions like these, the Madison community will continue to highlight indigenous speakers and celebrate Native American identity. 

“The goal has always been to educate people on local history and create the opportunity for community connection through these programs,” Shah said. “Indigenous communities have an important role to play in this intersection, so it is important to let them tell their stories.”

Indigenous educator and mental health advocate Tim Decorah is one of the series’ keynote speakers.. His presentation, “Survive & Thrive,” took place on October 30 at Pinney Library. The presentation focused on Decorah’s battle with generalized anxiety disorder throughout his life. As a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, Decorah hoped to serve as a face for those within indigenous communities who are struggling with mental health issues.

“I want to help mankind at a local level first,” Decorah said. “If I can help our tribes, that’s goal number one.”

Growing up in Wisconsin Dells and later becoming an educator in Waunakee, Decorah was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder in 2021 at the age of 52. 

Sporting a belt that read “COOL AF” (with the AF standing for “anxiety-free,” as he explained), Decorah spoke about his journey with anxiety through humorous tales and emotional memories. Childhood snapshots, stories of his family and old portraits of his mother were included in his presentation’s slideshow. 

Since his diagnosis, Decorah has worked to share his coping strategies with the community. What first started as Decorah demonstrating a few of these methods amongst friends and support groups turned into a local media success, with Decorah’s story receiving more than 3,500 shares on Facebook.

During the presentation, Decorah taught the audience simple breathing techniques that he has shared with his students and community.  

Being a mental health advocate was important to Decorah because of both his indigenous identity and his work as an educator. “I wanted to become a name, face and gender for the profile of anxiety,” said Decorah. “If one person goes and seeks help when they need it, that is one more person than before.”

Upcoming “Teejop & Beyond” presentations include a quillwork workshop with Paige Skenadore from the Oneida Nation on December 2 at Hawthorne Library, followed by a beaded earring workshop with Menominee artist Yvette Peguero on December 16 at Sequoya Library. 

Photo provided by Madison Public Library.

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