Studying Genocide to Encourage Decolonization and Upstanding in Schools and Museums

Upstander Project’s Emmy® award-winning film  Dawnland  is a cornerstone of the Upstander Academy

Upstander Project’s Emmy® award-winning film Dawnland is a cornerstone of the Upstander Academy

  • Six Day Professional Development Experience

  • August 2 - 7, 2020

  • applications open in early 2020

Upstander Academy is a 6-day professional development program for humanities teachers and museum educators in an intimate cohort-based setting where the power of storytelling ignites learning and invites self-reflection on complex historic and contemporary issues.

Our curriculum uses post-genocide Rwanda and genocide against Native peoples in the U.S. as a framework for historical inquiry, sharing new teaching methods and modeling the skills of upstanders. Our goal: to create more inclusive curricula and schools, public conversations and spaces – and to help educators, institutions and students counter bias by promoting understanding, restoration and the repairing of broken relationships.

Upstander Project’s Emmy® award-winning documentary Dawnland, which was recognized for Outstanding Research, is central to our week of inquiry and discussion.

Upstander Academy participants in Listening Circle

The six-day 2020 Boston Upstander Academy is presented by Upstander Project, Akomawt Educational Initiative, Boston Public Schools, Leventhal Map Center, Massachusetts Historical Society, Museum of Fine Arts, Old State House, Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, and UMass Boston's Institute for New England Native American Studies.


UPSTANDER ACADEMY participants will:

  • Explore new content about post-genocide Rwanda and genocide against Native peoples in New England.

  • Test innovative teaching methods that support the Inquiry arc, and critical and creative thinking.

  • Learn to interrogate primary sources and work with learning activities using materials and tools, including those from the Library of Congress.

  • Practice and model the skills of upstanders in their classrooms, museums, and communities.

  • Become part of a growing professional community of colleagues that integrates genocide education and strategies for decolonization into classrooms and museums.

Upstander Academy faculty are experienced genocide educators, documentary filmmakers, museum educators with deep knowledge about the issues we address. To help educators recognize the dominant culture view isn’t the only one, we structure the Academy around our documentaries and learning resources: Coexist, about the complexity of reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda; 2019 Emmy®-winner Dawnland about the Maine-Wabanaki Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the first government-sanctioned TRC in U.S. history; First Light, Dear Georgina, and Bounty about different aspects of genocide against and survivance of Native peoples in U.S. With regard to Rwanda, we ask: How does a society ravaged by genocide begin to heal? With regard to genocide against Native peoples, we ask: What is the relationship between the taking of the land and the taking of the children? And, what is the relationship between the taking of the land and the taking of scalps?


  • A teacher or museum educator interested in themes such as genocide against Native peoples and post-genocide Rwanda

  • K-12 teachers and librarians who emphasize use of primary sources and place-based learning in their teaching

  • A teacher or educator with a particular interest in culturally-relevant teaching, Indigenous worldview, history, geography, and/or Traditional Ecological Knowledge. 

  • A school or district administrator involved in curriculum design and teacher professional learning

  • Indigenous teachers and Boston Public School teachers are especially encouraged to apply


  • a transformative educational experience that will enhance your outlook on US history, political present, Indigenous nationhood, and your own pedagogy 

  • the development of new skills for deep listening, student engagement, and document analysis that you can apply immediately in your classroom

  • connections to standards at your grade level

  • greater access to resources to cultivate upstander behavior and foster a decolonized classroom and museum

  • a supportive community of learners and colleagues who work through difficult and uncomfortable issues informed by hidden history 

  • more confidence in guiding your students in taking informed action

  • opportunities for Native and non-Native people to meet in affinity groups and as community to engage and challenge existing narratives

  • time and space for reflection about settler colonialism’s efforts to displace and erase Native peoples

  • an active week across the city, taking advantage of place-based learning opportunities--be ready for some walking and using public transportation!

Note: We are happy to make accommodations to make the Academy accessible for everyone. Please include any accessibility needs in your application so we have ample time to make accommodations.


Mishy Lesser, Ed.D., is the learning director of the Upstander Project and the founder, co-director, curriculum designer and a lead facilitator of the Upstander Academy, a weeklong professional learning experience for teachers and museum educators that focuses on genocide and human rights education and the skills of upstanders. She spent years researching and writing the Teacher’s Guide for Dawnland, contributing to its 2019 Emmy® for Outstanding Research. Mishy authored the Coexist Teacher’s Guide to promote learning about the complexity of reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda. She is a Circle Keeper and has been featured on WBUR (Boston) and PRI/BBC’s The World. Mishy was a Fulbright Scholar in Ecuador and spent 12 years learning and working in the Andes. She is currently an Education Fellow at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut.

endawnis Spears (Diné, Ojibwe, Chickasaw, Choctaw) is the director of outreach and programming and founding member of the Akomawt Educational Initiative, an Indigenous education and interpretive consultancy. She is the co-director of the Upstander Academy and a lead facilitator of the Upstander Academy. Impassioned about the diverse and complex intersections of Native American narratives and museums, she has worked with and for Native communities and museums across the country. endawnis also worked in the education, marketing and development departments of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. Originally from Camp Verde, Arizona, she lives in Rhode Island with her husband Cassius Spears Jr., and their four children, Nizhoni, Sowaniu, Giizghig and Tishominko.


Chris Newell (Passamaquoddy) is the manager of museum education at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Mashantucket, CT and a founding member/director of education for the Akomawt Educational Initiative. Chris’s passion for developing educational programs extends beyond those institutions. His mission: to change the narratives[MOU1] of how Native history and contemporary issues are taught at all educational institutions and in the public square. Chris was born and raised in Motahkmikuhk (Indian Township), Maine. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a continuing education certificate in Native Studies. The Senior Advisor on Dawnland, Chris works with the Upstander Project and Academy because he wants to leave this world better than he found it.


Adam Mazo is the director of the Upstander Project and an Emmy® Award-winning social issue documentarian. His feature-length and short films are the core part of the Upstander Academy curriculum. Adam co-directed and produced First Light (Camden International Film Festival) and Dawnland (PBS/Independent Lens), about the Maine-Wabanaki Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the first government-sanctioned TRC in U.S. history. In September 2019, Dawnland won an Emmy® Award for Outstanding Research. Adam is the director and producer of African Academy Award-nominee Coexist (PBS’s WORLD Channel), about the complexity of reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda. His films have been broadcast on domestic and international television, programmed at film festivals and international conferences, and screened at universities, middle and high schools, where they are also often used in curricula. Originally from Minnesota, Adam lives with his family in the territory of the Massachusett people in the place now called Boston.


Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Colville Confederated Tribes) is a lecturer of American Indian Studies at California State University San Marcos, and a consultant and educator in environmental justice policy planning.  Dina’s research focuses on Indigenous nationalism, self-determination, environmental justice, and education. She also works within the field of critical sports studies, examining the intersections of indigeneity and the sport of surfing.  Dina is co-author with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz of Beacon Press’s All the Real Indians Died Off” and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans, and her forthcoming book, As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice from Colonization to Standing Rock, is scheduled for release by Beacon Press in April 2019.  

gkisedtanamoogk (key-said-TAH-NAH-mook) (Mashpee Wampanoag) is from the community of Mashpee located on what is currently called Cape Cod in Massachusetts. He served as co-chair of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He was an Adjunct Instructor with the Native American Studies Program and the Peace and Reconciliation Programs on the Orono campus of the University of Maine for more than a decade.


Roger Paul was born in Motahkomikuk to an unwed Passamaquoddy mother who crossed over to the spirit world.  His Maliseet father knew he had to disperse the children to protect them from the colonizing authorities. While growing up on various reservations throughout Maine and New Brunswick, he was shuttled between the communities to protect him.  His older brothers and sister were not as fortunate. They were taken and sent to the residential school at Shubenecatie. Roger grew up speaking the local Wabanaki dialects and began learning English around the age of five.  He soon realized the public’s lack of understanding and connection to the indigenous peoples and especially those of northeastern North America.  He has since chosen a path to help educate anyone interested, about the importance of indigenous Wabanaki People and their vital role in the communities in which they are ever-present.  Roger is presently a masters student at MIT and working as a Wabanaki Languages teacher with the Penobscot Nation, the University of Maine at Orono, and the University of Southern Maine.  He takes an active and diligent role towards the preservation, continuing growth, and prosperity of the Wabanaki language, culture, and people.   


Miigam’agan is a Wabanaki/Mi’kmaw grandmother of the Jagej Clan from Esgenoôpetitj/ Burnt Church. She is a mother of three wonderful people and a grandmother to three beautiful grandchildren. Her life has been devoted to Wabanaki cultural revival and promoting an understanding of Indigenous matriarchal systems drawing on her language. Miigam’agan is Elder-in-Residence at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick and sits on the Executive Committee of the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network at the University of New Brunswick.

Claude Gatebuke is Executive Director of the Africa Great Lakes Action Network (AGLAN), which works to build peace, justice, and prosperity for all in the African Great Lakes Region.  A survivor of the Rwandan genocide and civil war, Claude is a human rights advocate and teachers who travels extensively, speaking out, raising awareness about justice, injustice and other challenges faced by the African Great Lakes.


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The Upstander Academy was founded in 2016 by the Upstander Project in partnership with the University of Connecticut’s Dodd Center and Humanities Institute as a three year pilot. As of 2019 the Upstander Academy will be held in Boston.

REGISTRATION and lodging FEES (summer 2020)

  • $250 discounted early-bird rate for applications submitted by March 1

  • $450 regular rate for applications submitted by April 5

  • $700 late rate for applications submitted by May 24

  • Scholarships are available for the first 10 Boston Public School educators who are accepted and $250 of their fee will be refunded upon completion of the Academy

  • In-service teachers from other districts can apply and receive stipends from their districts upon approval

  • Upstander Academy provides most lunches and some dinners

  • Lodging available at Suffolk University for $65/$78/night per person (double/single)

  • For Massachusetts teachers, PDP certificates for 45 hours will be provided at the conclusion of the workshop. For non-Massachusetts teachers, a certificate stating completion of the course and the number of contact hours will be provided.

registration fee

Upon notification of acceptance, please click “add to cart” to submit payment via PayPal and complete your Upstander Academy registration.

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