Native Culture and History in the Monona Area

Ho-Chunk Winnebago Creation Story

The Hoocąk (Ho-Chunk) have occupied the Teejop (Four Lakes) area for thousands of years. Oral history states that the Ho-Chunk’s first fires were lit in Mogasuc (Red Banks) in Green Bay, and they are believed to be the first inhabitants of the Great Lakes Region (Quackenbush, 2017). They had been previously called Ouinipegoue (Winnebago) which means “People of the Stinking Water”  referring to the great amount of algae that grows in the Fox River and Lake Winnebago (Loew, 2013). The Otoe, Missouri, Iowa, and Siouan Tribes originated from the Ho-Chunk and refer to them as their Grandfather Tribe. These Tribes diverged around 1570, following issues after other Tribes migrated to the Great Lakes region from the East Coast. This created conflicts with land space and they had nowhere to expand. The Tribal name for Ho-Chunk means “People of the Big Voice” which refers to the four tribes that originated from them who they believe they represent. 

The Nation is made up of different clans categorized by earth, “those who are below”, or sky, “those who are above”.  The clans include the Waukanja (Thunder), Caxsep (Eagle), Manape (Hawk), Wakcexi (Water Spirit), Ho (Fish), Waukau (Snake), Sukjak (Wolf), Huc (Bear), Ca (Deer), Huwa (Elk), Cexji (Buffalo),and Recuge (Pigeon). Members of the various clans have different duties within the Nation. The war chiefs are from the Bear Clan, of the earth division, and the peace chiefs are from the Thunderbird Clan, of the sky division. 

The earliest human inhabitants in southern Wisconsin relied on mammoths and mastodons for food as the last of the nųųx haruką (glaciers) retreated. Around 800 BC, cultivation of native vegetation for food became more refined and there was an expansion of rituals, likely focusing on burial, which may have been the start of Moš'ok (Mound) building in the Madison area (Birmingham, 1994). The Moš'okwere conical and linear, often for the purposes of more than one burial. The Outlet Moš'ok, located at Indian Mounds Park in Monona, is the last remaining conical Moš'ok of what used to be a group of 19 conical and linear Moš'ok once located in this area. Paac (Woodland Park) in Monona contains two linear Moš'ok on top of a hill which was common for Moš'ok building. Through time, with greater social and economic changes, people began building many Moš'ok in the shapes of  animals, often representing the different clans of the Tribe. They served as a gathering place for various activities to integrate the land and spiritual worlds. 

The French first made contact with the Ho-Chunk in the 17th century, when there were 12,000 to 20,000 Tribal members who lived on about 10.5 million acres of land (Quackenbush, 2017). Intermarriage was common and encouraged. There was also a lot of trade; the Europeans sought fur while the Native people sought manufactured goods such as guns and utensils. It is around this time which the Ho-Chunk were believed to have become patrilineal, previously being matrilineal, because of the influence of the Europeans and involvement in fur trade which was seen as a male dominated activity (Loew, 2013). The Ho-Chunk fought alongside the French and British in wars following the first contacts. There was a dramatic decrease in Ho-Chunk population, mostly due to imported European diseases. 

In the beginning of the 19th century, the US Government recognized the Ho-Chunk as a Sovereign Nation who had the right to own 10.5 million acres of land (Quackenbush, 2017). Several treaties, such as the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1817, were signed with the US as an attempt to maintain peace, but soon after, the US Government changed its position. From 1825 to 1837, the Ho-Chunk were coerced into signing new treaties that forced them to cede their territories (Quackenbush, 2017). They were forced to relocate to reservations in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. The condition of some reservations were not ideal and the Sioux Tribe, who were not friendly with other Tribes, had surrounded the Ho-Chunk in South Dakota. Many Ho-Chunk had walked back to their homes in Wisconsin after forced relocations.These acts of resilience demonstrate the Ho-Chunk Nation’s powerful connection to their ancestral lands.

Today, the enrollment number for the Ho-Chunk Nation is 7,300 who mostly live in Southern and Central Wisconsin as well as Minnesota and Illinois. They run many businesses such as gaming, wellness centers, and hotels and offer many services like dental and health. The Ho-Chunk Government includes four branches; the General Council (this includes all members of theTribe to give everyone a voice), Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary.