Matthew James Stewart, Migizi, 34, began his journey home on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013.
Matt was born Oct. 21, 1978, to James and Kathleen (Dahl) Stewart in Rhinelander, Wis. He graduated from Logan Senior High in La Crosse, in 1997. He later began his undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, earning his B.A. in History and then his Master’s in Education-Professional Development. He was currently working toward his doctorate in indigenous education at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He was employed at UW-La Crosse, and had a fellowship at UMD. Matt was currently employed as the Education Coordinator at the Hmong Mutual Assistance Association.
While pursuing his Master’s degree, Matt was united in marriage with the star in his sky, Xong Xiong, with whom he created a precious daughter.
Matt enjoyed spending time with his family, spending time at the cabin, fishing, camping, canoeing, ricing, playing the bodhran and spending time with people.
Matt loved to travel. He went on trips to Ireland, France, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia, China, Burma, Venezuela, Canada, Florida and Mexico.
Matt was a dreamer. He dreamt of a world of peace and compassion where no one was hungry and there was a balance of all things. He never let go of that dream despite the realities and struggles he saw each day.
Matt was a student. He never tired of learning and traveled many continents seeking knowledge to help him better understand people and nature. He watched and listened to young people, peers, and elders knowing that everyone has wisdom and knowledge to share.
Matt was an organizer. No one can say Matt was actually organized, but he knew how to convey his passions to others. He was instrumental in organizing many events at UW-La Crosse such as the Act 31 Conference, the Multicultural Potato conference, Rethinking Thanksgiving dinners and Anti-Columbus rallies to raise awareness of the negative impact of Columbus not usually taught in schools. He also helped design the position of Social Justice Director, and brought Ojibwe and Hmong language classes to campus. He was involved with several student organizations, serving as the President for the Native American Student Association and working closely with the Hmong Organization Promoting Education.
“If you want to go fast, you will go alone. If you want to go far, we must go together.”
Matt was an Anishinabeg Inini, his Anishinabe (Ojibwe) heritage was an immeasurable influence on the man he became and the beliefs he held. He had countless friends and colleagues throughout all the tribes of Wisconsin, Minnesota and even the rest of North America. His devotion to the rights of Indigenous people was tremendous. He often would take young people to Native communities to show them practices and ways of life of Native people. He was a member of the “Indian” Mascot and Logo Taskforce, never giving up the fight to remove Indian Mascots and Logos from schools and corporations. He was a staff person with the American Indian Studies Summer Institute, often assisted at the La Crosse Three Rivers Powwow and spent many hours creating beadwork and birch bark art.
Matt was a teacher. He loved to share what he learned with others. He worked as a lecturer at UW-La Crosse, was a guest speaker at many local schools, and en joyed his time as a student teacher while obtaining his Master’s degree.
Matt was a speaker. Anyone who spent time with him knew him as a dynamic, passionate, and loquacious orator.
Matt was timely. Well, maybe not. He was always late, but right on time for food, fishing, ricing and helping anyone and everyone he could.
Matt was a gardener. Matt had great passion when it came to gardens. Whether it was explaining the art and science of indigenous agriculture or working long hours in the Native and Hmong gardens he established, he treasured the nourishment and medicine the gardens and nature provides.
Matt was an activist. He traveled to Washington D.C., Ft Benning, Georgia, through Wisconsin and into Illinois to stand up for justice. Social Justice was what Matt fought, yearned and shed tears for. Anti-mining, clean air and water, clean energy, human rights ,sustainability, worker’s rights, anti-militarism and restorative justice are just a few of the issues upon which he stood his ground. He also encouraged others to join efforts for the issues they believed in.
Matt was a mentor. Matt has been called a mentor by many people. Humbly, he would’ve denied having that role in a person’s life since he felt he still had so much to learn, but he truly was a mentor.
Matt was a unifier. He understood that everyone could find commonalities and he helped people learn to bridge the space and work together. One of his strongest accomplishments was establishing the Widening the Circle Conference. What started out as an informational Native American education workshop has now developed into a 10 year old symposium that brings innovative curriculum and strategies to improve and strengthen the education of all students in understanding both Native history and culture and Hmong history and culture.
Matt was a defender. He understood diversity and the importance of it for the world to survive. He would stand up for those whose voice was not heard or those that were too tired from the oppression they endured. He believed in preserving and reviving culture to help strengthen the underprivileged, underrepresented, or survivors of colonialist oppression. Of great importance to Matt was the struggle to preserve and revitalize indigenous languages.
Matt was a family man. Matt held dear his wife, child, parents, siblings, in-laws and grandparents. He always strived to honor and strengthen family bonds.
Matt was a friend. As soon as you met him, even if he made you mad, he became a friend. He loved his closest friends as his family, gaining many extra “brothers” and “sisters.” A more sincere friend could not be found for many of those he loved.
Matthew James Stewart was a true leader, visionary, and irreplaceable. His love, teachings and compassion will live on in those whose lives he touched.
Matt is survived by his wife, Xong and her family, daughter, Nkauj Ntsuab (Pi — Roo); father, James (Paula) S. Stewart of La Crosse; mother, Kathleen (Thomas) White of Superior, Wis., maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Dahl of Duluth, Minn.; paternal grandmother, Mary Watts; sisters, Maren (Matt) Hustad of Dayton, Minn., April (Ryan) Tuquero; brothers, Chris Watkins, Patrick (Nicole) Watkins of La Crosse; uncle, Jeff (Jolene) Stewart of Duluth; aunts, Jean (Bill) Thompson of Wagner, S.D., Mary Stolis of Plymouth, Minn., and Janet (Rick) Livingston of Oveido Fla., many cousins, several nieces and nephews and many friends including special friend Shane Nelson in the Duluth and Superior area, Guy and Joan Wolf of La Crosse, colleagues and community members at the HMAA, the Houghton’s crew, UW-L Alum, Co-Horts, and so many other dear friends in Wisconsin and Minnesota,
Waiting for him as he begins his journey are his maternal grandfather, Donald Dahl; paternal grandfathers, Bill Watts and James E. Stewart; and maternal aunt, Deborah Carlsness.
A memorial service will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, at the Hmong Cultural Center, 1815 Ward Ave., La Crosse. Coulee Region Cremation Group is assisting the family.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Xong Xiong-Matthew J Stewart Memorial Fund at Altra Federal Credit Union to assist his wife and daughter.