Fort McCoy News Dec. 11, 2015

Ho-Chunk speaker shares traditions

BY AIMEE MALONE
Public Affairs Staff

Inclusion and service were the themes of guest speaker Robert Mann at Fort McCoy's Nov. 20 observance of Native-American Heritage Month at McCoy's Community Center, building 1571.

Mann currently serves as the Ho-Chunk Nation Veterans Affairs office manager. Mann also worked as executive director of Heritage Preservation and prior to that as a veterans service officer.

In 2013, he spoke before U.S. Treasury Department Committee about the Ho-Chunk Code Talkers during World War II, which led to the creation of Ho-Chunk Code Talkers medals. These medals were given to the descendants of those Ho-Chunk warriors in a special ceremony.

Photo
Robert Mann, Veterans Affairs office manager for the Ho-Chunk Nation,
gives a presentation while wearing traditional Native-American regalia
during the Fort McCoy observance of Native-American Heritage Month at McCoy's Community Center in November.
Photo by Scott T. Sturkol

Mann started his presentation with a video about the U.S. flag's significance to the Ho-Chunk Nation. "This flag does not belong to us; it was created for another reason," the video states. "But we still respect it because of our veterans who served in the military."

Ho-Chunk warriors traditionally fought with an eagle staff instead of a flag, but the Ho-Chunk people began using the U.S. flag in ceremonies to honor their fallen warriors who served in the armed forces, according to the video. In the 1950s, Ho-Chunk veterans of World War I and World War II began raising the flag to honor their relatives. One composed a song for the raising of the flag, which is now used during the Memorial Day powwow.

During the powwow, Ho-Chunk tribe members bring flags from Family members' military funerals to raise. Photographs and tobacco offerings sometimes are placed at the foot of flagpoles, too.

Mann spoke about the history of Native-American Heritage Month, saying the quest to set aside a day to honor and celebrate the original inhabitants' accomplishments goes back a century.

In 2008, Congress passed a bill designating the day after Thanksgiving as Native-American Heritage Day. The Ho-Chunk Nation observes Ho-Chunk Day on this same day, Mann said.

"Native Americans maintain vibrant cultural traditions and hold a deeply rooted sense of community," Mann said. "Native Americans have moving stories of tragedies, triumph, and perseverance that need to be shared with future generations."

He spoke about the Decorah Family, who fought in World War I for the U.S. Army. Cpl. Foster Decorah and Pfc. Robert Decorah were killed, and Pvt. Henry Decorah came home injured by mustard gas. Mann said Henry Decorah applied to the Army for benefits but was denied because he wasn't a U.S. citizen.

"The story of Foster, Robert, and Henry is a fine of example of the ultimate display of honor and courage by a father and his sons to protect their people," Mann said. "However, after World War (I and) II, our warriors had to come home and fight another battle."

He described the struggles of Native Americans to be accepted by the American Legion and other organizations after returning home. After being rebuffed, he said, they formed the Wisconsin Winnebago Veterans. A delegation from the organization participated in the 1953 inaugural parade for President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

"This is just an example of how native people across the country have … showed their patriotism," Mann said. "This is something (that shows) we are all one. … We all live together here."

Members of the Tomah High School Diversity Club attended the luncheon and said they enjoyed listening to Mann.

"I thought it was really cool how prominent the flag is in their culture now," club member Wyatt Sweet said.

Sierra Radcliffe, another club member, said she liked the message of inclusion and equality. She said she was impressed by how, despite the Ho-Chunk Nation's history, Mann and other tribe members could say "we're all friends now, and that's what's important," Radcliffe said.

For more information about the Ho-Chunk Nation, go online to http://www.ho-chunknation.com/. For more information about observances at Fort McCoy, call the Equal Opportunity adviser at 608-388-8994.