As the Waunakee Village Board contemplates approving a statement acknowledging the Ho-Chunk Nation’s land, the expectation is that those words will be tied to future action.

Waunakee village staff presented the village board with a report summarizing the past year and a half of work with the UniverCity Year program and the UW Nelson Institute School of Environmental Studies, along with the statement at the board’s July 19 meeting.

A student group involved in the work drafted a number of ways to honor and recognize the Ho-Chunk land Waunakee is on and celebrate and honor the Nation’s history, said Todd Schmidt, village administrator.

Village President Chris Zellner said he had worked on this effort for some time. He and Waunakee Middle School teacher Tim Decorah, who is Native American, grew up together, and as the village began to plan its 150th year celebration, Zellner thought the timing was appropriate to recognize the Ho-Chunk Nation’s history here, he said.

Rep. Sarah Lemieux, Legislator for the Ho-Chunk Nation, and Ryan Greendeer, spokesperson, attended the July 19 meeting, as well. Lemieux said the Nation has a strong history in Wisconsin.

“However we can get more understanding of the Ho-Chunk people and their history, we’re more than willing to do that,” Lemieux said.

Greendeer provided a more in-depth explanation of the land acknowledgment, noting it starts with education.

“We hope that the education we might be able to provide to the village, as well, informs you as you’re making decisions and going about your community life,” Greendeer said, citing the impact of development and growth on the environment.

“We were here a lot more than 150 years ago, and there’s a reason that we chose this area for some of our villages,” Greendeer added.

Development has impacted activities, such as fishing, as increasing mercury levels have lessened the amount of fish advised for consumption.

“That is a very large impact that we feel when we try to do anything that honors our way of life,” Greendeer said.

Adopting the land acknowledgment statement is one small piece, a first step that requiring reading, studying and comprehending the impacts for it to be fully realized.

“It also comes with a responsibility because now that you have that education, you have to use that in your decisions moving forward,” Greendeer said.

Zellner agreed that approving the land’s acknowledgment was just the beginning. It will involve learning and providing education about the Waunakee and Westport areas, the waterways and environment, and ensuring they are protected and valued, he said.

Zellner read the land acknowledgment statement aloud. Beforehand, he said receiving input from the community and fellow village board members prior to approving it is important. The statement reads:

“The Village of Waunakee acknowledges that the land we occupy is Teejop, ancestral territory of the Hoocagra (Ho-Chunk Nation), People of the Sacred Voice. Hoocagra are stewards of these lands and waters since time immemorial. Settlers attempted to forcibly remove them from their homelands by exploiting a series of land cessions and treaties, including the Treaty of 1832. However, the Hoocagra resisted these conquests and asserted their sovereignty as a nation. We address this trend of dispossession by upholding Hoocagra woošgą (way of life), sovereignty, culture, language, and environmental practices. Acknowledging these atrocities is only the first step towards reconciliation. Through relationship-building, education, and action, the Village will advocate for a shared future with the Hoocagra Nation.”

Education, action

The land acknowledgment is the result of a collaboration between the Ho-Chunk Nation, Village of Waunakee participants, UniverCity Year and the UW-Madison Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies, according to a memo to the village board. The partners followed a recommended process in drafting it to ensure accuracy and that the history was told from the Ho-Chunk perspective.

A Ho-Chunk Nation-Village of Waunakee Land Acknowledgment Project was proposed, as well, with a number of educational programs, including some, like a mini speaker series at the Waunakee Public Library, that have concluded.

Others include art installations, increased teaching about Tribal history and culture in schools, an educational page on the village’s website, and the designation of an Indigenous People’s Day.

Earlier in the meeting, Nick Mischler and Allan Dassow, members of the Waunakee Public Arts Commission, presented the village board with a maquette or small model sculpture of the one commissioned at Waunakee High School in 2019. Mischler said the plan for the next public art piece is one that will honor the Ho-Chunk Nation’s history.

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