Fort McCoy News November 28, 2014

Chief shares history of Ho-Chunk Nation during event

Public Affairs Staff

The people of the Ho-Chunk Nation have endured many hardships but remain strong. Their strength is exemplified by their resilience and their service in the United States armed forces, said Chief Clayton Winneshiek, Chief of the Ho-Chunk Nation.

Photo for Native American article
Chief Clayton Winneshiek of the Ho-Chunk Nation speaks during the observance. Winneshiek spoke of the hardships the Ho-Chunk people have endured and recounted their long legacy of military service.

Winneshiek presented the history of his people and shared accounts of their military contributions during the Nov. 13 observance of National Native American Heritage Month at Fort McCoy.

Winneshiek explained the Ho-Chunk, or Winnebago, didn't receive federal recognition and tribal sovereignty until 1963. This, however, did not deter tribe members from joining the U.S. military.

"The Ho-Chunk come from a long line of warriors," he said. "They weren't recognized, but yet they stepped forward and joined the armed forces."

His father served in World War II as a code talker. Winneshiek said 33 tribes from across the U.S. participated as code talkers.

Winneshiek said he contemplates the involvement of Native Americans in that war. "If these 33 different tribes hadn't helped in World War II, I wonder where the U.S. would be."

Winneshiek said he believes the culture and heritage within the Ho-Chunk people is strong and makes them survivors. "Our people have been through a lot over the past 200 years, but yet we are still here," he said.

During the 1800s, when settlers moved into the area, the U.S. government attempted to remove the Ho-Chunk on five different occasions and move them west. Winneshiek said each time the Ho-Chunk found their way back to their homeland.

Photo for Native American article
Members of the "Little Thunder Singers," from Black River Falls, Wis.,
perform traditional songs of the Ho-Chunk Nation during the Fort McCoy observance of National Native American Heritage Month at McCoy's Community Club.

"Throughout all of that, it was hard for the elders to keep the Ho-Chunk way of life, but we survived through it," he said.

Ho-Chunk elders also had difficulties in school as children. They were not allowed to speak in their native language and would have their mouths washed with soap or their hands slapped if they did, Winneshiek said.

Winneshiek said even after becoming federally recognized in 1963, the tribe wasn't completely a sovereign nation. "Anything the tribe wanted to do had to be approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. To me that is not sovereignty."

But the tribe endured, he said. The Ho-Chunk opened smoke shops; Ho-Chunk bingo was born, and casinos were opened. Of the 11 Native American tribes in Wisconsin, the Ho-Chunk Nation is the only tribe that does not live on a reservation, Winneshiek said.

Its people and ceded and trust lands are scattered across Wisconsin.

Winneshiek said he was thankful to come to Fort McCoy to honor fellow Native Americans who served in the military and prays the gatherings happen more often.

At the closing of the observance, Garrison Commander Col. Steven W. Nott said there is paradox with Native American culture.

"Although the tribes throughout the U.S. very rightfully may have a certain amount of animosity toward the European history that forms the tapestry of what is America, they enlist and serve in our military in tremendously huge numbers.

"They have great love for this nation, the flag and what it represents, and for our military forces," Nott said.

For more information about observances in the Fort McCoy community, call the Equal Opportunity Adviser at 608-388-3246.