Skip to main content

Second 'Racing Toward Justice' event set for Oct. 11: A conversation with Stephanie Autumn

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: Stephanie Autumn has spent her 40-year career advocating for social and restorative justice for American Indian and Alaskan Native populations. An expert in the field of Indigenous incarceration and reintegration, Autumn will present on Oct. 11 as the second "Racing Toward Justice" speaker.

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Center for Racial and Restorative Justice will host the second installment of the 2021-22 "Racing Toward Justice" speaker series at 6 p.m. Oct. 11. Although the series opened with a virtual presentation, this will be an in-person presentation in Centennial Hall, Room 1614. Per UW-Eau Claire's campus mask guidelines, masks are required for all attendees.

Guest speaker Stephanie Autumn, a member of the Hopi nation, is the director of the Tribal Youth Resource Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, a nonprofit organization supporting tribal efforts to improve juvenile justice systems for American Indian/Alaskan Native (AIAN) youth. Autumn is also executive director of the American Indian Prison Project, which serves detained and incarcerated Indigenous people in the U.S.

Autumn has worked with diverse tribal nations throughout the U.S. on issues of restorative justice, American Indian adult and juvenile criminal and civil justice, substance abuse prevention and tribal youth mentoring programs. She also has represented the International Treaty Council and other American Indian human rights organizations at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, and at international conferences and summits in Russia, Japan, Africa, Libya and throughout Europe and the U.S.

In a March 2021 interview with Indian Country Today, Autumn pointed out that as of 2020 census numbers, while Indigenous people accounted for less than 1% of the U.S. population, the numbers of incarcerated Native American men, women and youth detained in state, federal and county facilities constitute 20-35% of the total.

Autumn refers to the “womb to prison pipeline” when addressing these alarming statistics and says that the work of the American Indian Prison Project is, in part, to help previously incarcerated American Indian people reintegrate into their communities.

“In our Indigenous communities, we look at the strengths of all of our people,” she says. “If we can couple those strengths with healing resources and western therapy, really utilize our resources in a way that gets to the root of the problem, we can start to see change in terms of decreasing the number of our relatives going into state and federal facilities.”  

Dr. Heather Ann Moody, associate professor of American Indian studies and co-chair of the Center for Racial and Restorative Justice implementation team, says that the speaker selection committee for this series laid out a progression of topics and themes for the season, and Autumn’s presentation is a logical next theme to address.

“Our first presentation was geared toward advocacy for victim’s rights, and this second presentation will dive into the layers of restorative justice and what that looks like,” Moody says.

Dr. Gloria Howerton, assistant professor of geography and anthropology and "Racing Toward Justice" speaker selection committee member, looks forward to the depth of knowledge Autumn can share with students, many of whom will be hearing about these issues for the first time.

“Many students are learning about racial justice both in and out of the classroom, but this may be the first time most are hearing about restorative justice,” Howerton says. “She will highlight Indigenous restorative practices and discuss working with tribal youth. Our hope is that students will come away with tangible approaches to working toward justice.”

Howerton added that Autumn’s experiences and real-life examples will help meet the center’s goal of engaging students in discussions that build connections between large-scale systemic issues and the tangible results they can see on a local scale.

This event is free and open to the public. No registration is required.