Studying Genocide to Encourage Decolonization and Upstanding

The Upstander Project is proud to present the Upstander Academy, an inquiry-based professional development opportunity for secondary teachers and museum educators with a focus on genocide and decolonization to foster upstanding and address complex historical and current issues.  The six-day 2020 Boston Upstander Academy is presented by Upstander Project, Boston Public Schools, Akomawt Educational Initiative, Leventhal Map Center, Massachusetts Historical Society, Museum of Fine Arts, Old State House, and UMass Boston's Institute for New England Native American Studies. The Upstander Academy will be held in multiple locations in Boston: the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate, the Old State House, Boston Public Library, and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Upstander Academy 2016 participants in Listening Circle

Teachers and museum educators interested in themes such as post-genocide Rwanda and genocide against Native peoples in the U.S. are encouraged to participate. These content areas provide a helpful framework for learning new teaching methods and approaches, and about the importance of upstanders.


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 work with primary sources and learning activities using materials and tools 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.


The Academy will feature experienced genocide and human rights educators, documentary filmmakers, museum educators and guest presenters. Three documentary films by Upstander Project, CoexistFirst Light, and Dawnland will be featured as cornerstones of teaching and learning. 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 connection between the taking of the land and the taking of the children?


  • Time and space for personal and professional reflection

  • New skills for deep listening, student engagement, and document analysis

  • New resources to cultivate upstanders and foster a values-based classroom and museum

  • A supportive community of learners and colleagues

core faculty

Mishy Lesser, Ed.D., is the learning director for the Upstander Project and Education Fellow at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut. She is director 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. Currently Dr. Lesser spends much of her time researching and writing the five-inquiry Teacher's Guide for Dawnland. 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. 

Chris Newell (Passamaquoddy) is manager of museum education at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Mashantucket, CT and co-founder/director of education for Akomawt Educational Initiative. He leads the development of educational programs for the museum and beyond, changing the narrative of how Native history and contemporary issues are taught at all levels of education and in the public. Chris was born and raised in Indian Township (Motahkmikuhk), Maine. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut as well as continuing education in Native studies.  Chris works with the Upstander Project in his mission to leave this world better than he found it and serves as the Senior Advisor on Dawnland

endawnis Spears (Diné, Ojibwe, Chickasaw, Choctaw) is 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 and has worked in the education and marketing and development departments at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. She is the Director of Outreach and Programming and founding member of the Akomawt Educational Initiative, an Indigenous education and interpretive consultancy.  Originally from Camp Verde, Arizona, she lives in Rhode Island with her husband Cassius Spears Jr., and their four children, Nizhoni,  Sowaniu, and Giizghig and Tishominko. 


Adam Mazo is the director of the Upstander Project and is also co-director and producer of First Light (Camden International Film Festival) and the feature-length film, Dawnland (Independent Lens). Adam is also the director and producer of Coexist (WORLD Channel). His work has been featured on television, at film festivals and international conferences, and at universities, and schools. He lives in Boston with his family.



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.


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. She 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 2019)

  • $125 discounted fee for applications submitted prior to February 27

  • $250 fee for applications submitted prior to March 22

  • $350 fee for applications submitted prior to April 30

  • All Boston Public School educators will pay the $125 discounted fee, and upon completion of the Academy will be refunded their registration fee and receive and additional $125 stipend.

  • 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 $63/$71/night (double/single), breakfast included

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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