Professor Colonnese is Santee Sioux, French, and Italian and he grew up in the upper Midwest. Before completing his Ph.D. in English at Arizona State, Professor Colonnese held many different jobs as wide ranging as farm laborer, foundry worker, and probation officer. After completing his doctorate, Colonnese worked at Northern Arizona University for fourteen years as an English professor, an assistant athletics director, and an assistant dean. While in Flagstaff, Colonnese also worked for Native Americans for Community Action. During the past twelve years Colonnese has served at the University of Washington as the assistant vice president for minority affairs and as the chair of American Indian Studies. In addition to writing many articles and short stories, Colonnese is the author of two books: The Vietnam War in American Literature, and American Indian Novelists, co-authored with Louis Owens. He also wrote two volumes of The Encyclopedia of the North American Indian.
Professor Colonnese has been the director of many different programs that work with American Indians, and has written grants that have been funded at over sixty million dollars. These programs have carried out projects related to athletics, teaching, art, video production, drama, literature, creative writing, history, science, mathematics, drug/alcohol awareness, intergenerational programs, and emergency care. Colonnese currently is the co-director of the NASA funded American Indian Science Technology Education Consortium (AISTEC). AISTEC has been widely lauded as one of the nation’s premier programs for American Indian education in science and math. Colonnese also directs the Microsoft Tribal Support project. Professor Colonnese’s past grants also include Department of Education grants, and grants funded by Seafirst Bank, Wells Fargo Bank, the Boeing Corporation, US WEST, Weyerhaeuser, Mobil Oil, the Suzuki Foundation, Citibank, and the Hewlett Foundation. Professor Colonnese serves as a consultant to Educational Testing Service, the College Board, the Department of Education, NASA, and formerly served as an advisor on tribal education to the President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton.