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The Ho-Chunk Nation
Native Americans make up a diverse nation of people who contributed greatly to American history. The Ojibwe, Menominee, Ho-chunk, Potawatomi, Stockbridge Munsee, and Oneida peoples are among the twelve original inhabitants of Wisconsin. American Indian people are diverse, and each of their histories and experiences are unique based on their tribal affiliation. Wisconsin continues to hold a large population of American Indians; their traditional beliefs and values are still practiced and preserved today. The Ho-Chunk nation is just one of the many Wisconsin tribes who fought to gain federal recognition as a sovereign American Indian nation after many years of struggle. This paper will examine the history of the Ho-chunk peoples, their life today, and struggles they are currently facing.
From the Red Banks near Lake Winnebago to the Wisconsin Rivers, the Ho-Chunk lived, flourished, and practiced their cultural traditions. The Ho-Chunk nations occupied various lands not only in Wisconsin, they owned and abundant amount of land in America, about ten million acres. When French trader Jean Nicolet and missionary Marquette began their trade with the Ho-Chunk Nation in 1634, trade enhanced their sustenance and provided other European goods that were useful to them. The Ho-Chunk predominantly lived along the Fox-Wisconsin waterway. They utilized the fishing, vegetation, fertile shores for gardening, and the rivers for travelling. Once settlers began reaching Wisconsin, in 1836, the Ho-Chunk were forcibly removed from Wisconsin to make room for the growing mining industry, they were moved to northeastern Iowa. After ten years, they were moved again here, in Minnesota, the United States government used their tribe as a shield between the combatant Dakota and Ojibwe tribes. The Ho-Chunk fought to receive better land near the Mississippi, however, the Ho-Chunk were moved further west. In 1863, the Ho Chunk were yet again moved, they were moved to land in South Dakota that was hard to assimilate to. As the Ho-Chunk were removed to scattered throughout the U.S, their entire Wisconsin homeland was ceded. In total, they went through eleven removals, finally, the United States government allowed the Ho-Chunk to leave the reservations in South Dakota for land in Nebraska. This caused the Ho-Chunk Nation to split, part of the tribe returned to Wisconsin, and part moved to the reservation in Nebraska. In 1873, many Ho-Chunk people in Wisconsin set out to the reservations in Nebraska. This move was a devastating experience for the Ho-Chunk, as many suffered from the harsh conditions and died. Part of the Nation was determined to stay in Wisconsin, they refused to move to other reservations. Eventually the U.S government gave families acres of homestead plots. They wanted the American Indians to try to assimilate and use the acres of land to farm which was very difficult because the Ho-Chunk were not used to that way of living.
Today the Ho-Chunk Nations continue to practice their cultural ways and traditions through tribal governance. Tribal governments are important to Indian American nations because it recognizes their tribal nations as sovereign governments. This allows tribal governments have the power to determine their own governmental structures, pass laws, and enforce laws. The Ho-Chunk Nations have their own executive, judicial, and legislative branch of government as well as general counsel. Each of their branches are similar in structure and function to the U.S branches of government. They recently had a special election for a legislator, their District 2 Legislator Carly Lincoln resigned so they held a special election to fill this seat. The tribe is very much involved in their culture and hold many different events that bring together their community and preserve their heritage. They have a family retreat coming up that invites Ho-Chunk families to connect, learn, and think about their children’s future. Tribal members have many resources provided to them such as educational programs, home ownership programs, and work programs. The education programs provide financial services to Ho-Chunk tribal members and encourage them to reach their educational goals. They provide scholarships to students who intent to return to the Nation and use their knowledge to strengthen and help their economy flourish. Home ownership programs provide services to help families qualify for home loans and reduce mortgage payments. They assist members with homebuyer education, so they reach their goal of home ownership. The work programs provide training opportunities that promote a sustainable workforce. They have programs in place such as the 477 Federal program that provides employment services that enhance tribal members skills to help them in become self-sufficient.
The Ho- Chunk Nation work hard to sustain their heritage. They find great importance in passing on their culture and language, however they are struggling with the preservation of their language. They are trying to help future generations speak and learn the language because they believe when their language dies, their culture dies as well. The Ho- Chunk Nation have been coordinating language classes that cater to students who have a strong fundamental base of the Ho-Chunk language and culture. Ho-chunk language classes are being offered in high schools in Wisconsin where children who grew up hearing and speaking the language become proficient enough to teach the language. Each student is striving to expand their knowledge of the Ho-Chunk language so they can share and speak Ho-Chunk with their communities. On the other hand, the future generations of Ho- Chunk children want to assimilate to American culture and do not find it necessary to preserve the Ho- Chunk language. They find importance in fitting in and do not put a great emphasis on learning the language. For many years, Native American children were sent to schools where U.S government wanted these children to assimilate and lose their native traditional ways, practices, and beliefs. If they did not assimilate, they were targeted and mistreated for being different. Today, some American Indians remained on reservations where they were able to maintain their languages and cultures. Others, however, left the reservations for the economic opportunities promised by the growing U.S. economy. Many intermarried with non-Indians, and their children often choose to fully assimilate into American culture. Native Americans who moved off the reservations into non-Indian community’s lost touch with the values, attitudes, and beliefs of their cultures, and many completely replaced their native languages with English.
American Indians make up a very important part of Wisconsin history. The Ojibwe, Menominee, Ho-chunk, Potawatomi, Stockbridge Munsee, Oneida peoples are among the twelve original inhabitants of Wisconsin. They continue to maintain a strong presence in Wisconsin and are fighting hard to preserve their culture and language. The history of the Ho-chunk nations helps us understand their lives today and the struggles they are currently facing. After years of being moved out of their homelands and forced to assimilate, the Ho-Chunk nations are persistently trying to keep their traditions alive. They have programs and offer classes to future generations with the hope of carrying out their culture for years to come.
- WhiteEagle, Marlon. “Government-Ho-Chunk Nation.” The Ho-Chunk Nation, 2019, ho-chunknation.com/.
- Loew, Patty. Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal. Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2001.
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