Two dynamic women share 2022 ATHENA Award

Athena Awards

For the first time in the history of the ATHENA Award program, two women who have set high professional standards and have been extremely active in supporting young women will share the 2022 ATHENA award. The highly credentialed award recipients, Kelly Jackson and Christy Clark-Pujara, received the coveted honor today at a virtual luncheon.

They were selected over four other accomplished women and honored today during the 25th anniversary celebration of the ATHENA Award. Normally held at the Madison Concourse Hotel & Governor’s Club, this year’s program was held virtually with the hope of returning to an in-person event or holding a hybrid program in 2023.

ATHENA Award judges felt they were equally deserving of the honor but recognizing two women had never been done before. The local judging panel asked for and quickly received permission to recognize both from ATHENA International.

Jackson is the founder and CEO of InnoNative Solutions LLC, a 100% Native American woman-owned consulting firm based in Madison. Clark-Pujara is an associate professor of history in the Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The ATHENA Award program is sponsored by The Business Forum, a professional women’s organization, and recognizes women who demonstrate excellence in their chosen profession and who have contributed their time and talent to the enrichment of young women.

Judging by the award recipients’ backgrounds, it’s easy to see why the judging committee could not choose between the 2022 award recipients, but there was another motivation for choosing more than one recipient. “One of the reasons we agreed to have two recipients is that it is our 25th anniversary this year, and because it’s our 25th, we thought it was a great way to have something different to celebrate,” says Kim Burlage, treasurer of the board of directors for The Business Forum. “The judges also agreed that both nominees deserved the award.”

Action Jackson
Jackson, a member of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Indians, a musician, and a philanthropist, was nominated by Samantha Skenandore, an attorney with the Madison office of Quarles & Brady LLP.

In 1994–95, Jackson served as a Ojibwemowin language director, leading a team of Ojibwe tribal elders of the Lac du Flambeau community in the development of language curriculum that included classroom instruction and community engagement. Ojibwemowin is an indigenous language and tribal elders were reluctant to write the language down since traditionally it was passed on orally. Jackson’s guidance resulted in the delivery of biweekly oral classes and the development of a written curriculum for Lac du Flambeau Elementary School.

Jackson continued to serve the community as director of the new Lac du Flambeau Tribal Historic Preservation Office. In 1996, the Lac du Flambeau of Lake Superior became one the first 12 tribes in the U.S. to assume the jurisdiction over cultural and historic resources, which is similar to state authority and regulated under the National Historic Preservation Act. Under Jackson’s leadership, the tribe entered into an agreement with the Secretary of Interior and established the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Historic Preservation Office. As a result, the tribe was able to protect and preserve cultural and historically relevant properties significant to the tribe across the region. She also founded the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers in Washington, D.C. and developed numerous local, state, and national programs and initiatives to support indigenous culture history and preservation.

Jackson also has made contributions to the artistic community, launching Spirit of a Women Productions in 2008 and releasing an internationally award-winning album entitled Spirit of a Woman, which celebrated women’s commitment to their families, careers, and community. Her follow-up album, Renditions of the Soul, has provoked awareness of violence against women, the National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Movement, addiction, and substance abuse. Her music has been recognized by numerous organizations, including the Network of Executive Women, the American Indian Sciences and Engineering Society, the American Indian Cancer Foundation, Violence Against Women Action Coalition, and many others.

Jackson teamed with a fellow indigenous community leader Danielle Yancey (Menominee tribe) to establish the Spirit of a Women nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire women to celebrate themselves by reshaping images and messages about women through music and multimedia. They helped launch the Indigenous Girls Rock Camp (IGRC), which is a music camp where girls can learn an instrument, form a band, write an original song, and perform live in concert.

In 2019, Jackson founded InnoNative Solutions to provide business development, strategic planning, and cultural and diversity, equity, and inclusion training to corporate and government organizations. Her company has been instrumental in the development of several nonprofit organizations and has launched cultural awareness and community investment programs. Most recently, InnoNative developed the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman Initiative (MMIW) and History Through Our Eyes — youth programs that focus on media solutions, social justice, cultural identity, and cultural preservation.

Her devotion to the personal and professional development of young women continues to be a cornerstone of her life. She still is writing, creating, and performing for women’s organizations across the world, having toured across Europe and Canada, and she continues to accept speaking engagements that offer a platform to empower and inspire women.

Upon receiving her ATHENA award, Jackson thanked the ATHENA award committee members for her selection and her family and children for their support, and she praised her fellow nominees and her professional colleagues, particularly Samantha Skenandore for being the epitome of “lift as you climb,” musical collaborator Danielle Yancy, and Menominee tribal elder Diana Miller.

“I wouldn’t be where I am or experience anything that I experienced, whether it would be my international music touring or it be the work that I do with philanthropy or the work that I do with tribal communities — none of that would be possible without the amazing circle of women that have been in my life,” Jackson said.

Historical perspective

Another impressive resume belongs to Christy Clark-Pujara, who earned a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in history from University of Iowa and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. After serving as a graduate instructor, a teaching assistant supervisor, and a teaching assistant in the Department of History at the University of Iowa, she came to UW–Madison as an Anna Julia Cooper Fellow in 2009–2010 and served as an assistant professor in the Afro-American Studies Department for six years before becoming an associate professor in the department in 2017.

Her major fields of study include African and African American History before 1900, Northern and Midwestern slavery in North America, and slavery and capitalism in the United States. She has earned a series of fellowships and grants, including an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Just Futures Grant, “Humanities Education for Anti-Racism Literacy in Sciences and Medicine,” for which she serves as co-principal investigator at UW–Madison.

The ATHENA award is hardly Clark-Pujara’s only recognition, as her list of honors include a Community Leadership Award from Church Women United of Madison (World Community Day, 2020), a 2019 Outstanding Woman of Color in Education Award from the University of Wisconsin System, and a 2017 Honored Instructor Award at UW–Madison.

Clark-Pujara also is a prolific writer, including the book Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island (New York University Press, 2016), and selected articles and book chapters including “Slavery and the Northern Economy” from Understanding and Teaching American Slavery (University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2016).

She also has been an active book reviewer of publications that examined topics such as the domestic slave trade and slavery in northern states, and she has presented at conferences and roundtable panels on the topics related to slavery, suffrage, and environmental justice. She is a sought-after keynote speaker, lecturer, and media contributor on blog posts, podcasts, and interviews.

Clark-Pujara was nominated for the ATHENA Award by Emily Auerbach, co-director of the UW Odyssey Project, which offers a humanities class for adult students facing economic barriers to college. Auerbach, who herself won an ATHENA Award in 2018, has watched Clark-Pujara serve the Odyssey Project since 2015.

At UW–Madison, Clark-Pujara also served on the Women Faculty Mentoring Program Advisory Committee, which directs a women faculty mentoring program to support and retain women faculty at UW–Madison for 30 years. She also served as a UW–Madison McNair Mentor, an undergraduate program that prepares underprivileged undergraduates who have exhibited the academic excellence required for graduate studies. Clark-Pujara also works as a corporate inclusion and diversity trainer for the Center for Professional and Executive Development in the Wisconsin School of Business.

In the broader community, Clark-Pujara has served on the committee of the United Way of Dane County Schools of Hope, a collaboration of the Madison Metropolitan School District, Centro Hispano, the Urban League of Greater Madison, and United Way that provides trained tutors in local school districts. She also served as a Madison Public Schools Avid/Tops Mentor, a Boys & Girls Club initiative that prepares high school students for college.

In receiving her ATHENA Award, Clark-Pujara thanked Emily Auerbach for her mentorship and members of her family for their support and encouragement, including her children for lifting a sometimes-heavy burden, her mother for taking care of her children during long work hours, a husband who believes in her when she doesn’t, and her late father who gave her affirmation and confidence.

Clark-Pujara also expressed gratitude for the ATHENA awards program and her fellow nominees for raising the bar. “I’d also like to thank the ATHENA committee for this incredible honor,” she said. “I’m humbled to be in the company of such distinguished women. My fellow nominees have gone beyond inspiration as they creatively demonstrated tangible pathways of opportunities for those who are so often left on the sidelines.”

Top-notch nominees
While two recipients were selected, local ATHENA Award judges had an impressive list of 2020 nominees to choose from, including:

Dane County’s first ATHENA Award was presented in 1998 to community activist Carol Toussaint, a foundation consultant. Last year’s recipient was award-winning broadcaster, author, and criminal justice reform advocate Jean Feraca, known best for her work with Wisconsin Public Radio.

Click here to sign up for the free IB Ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.