Recognizing our Shared History with the Ho-Chunk Nation

I hope some of you were able to join us Friday morning as we welcomed leaders of the Ho-Chunk Nation to campus for the raising of the Ho-Chunk Nation flag atop Bascom Hall — the first time the university has flown another nation’s flag over Bascom Hall.

Flag raisings are part of contemporary Ho-Chunk culture, with the Ho-Chunk Nation hosting annual flag raisings in their communities during Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day and also participating in flag raisings with public schools serving Ho-Chunk youth or with city governments in locations significant to the Ho-Chunk.

This was more than a symbolic gesture. It’s part of an ongoing commitment to educate the campus community about First Nations’ history, sovereignty and culture, and to recognize the land as the ancestral home of the Ho-Chunk. It affirms the special relationship between UW–Madison and the Ho-Chunk Nation that grows from the location of the campus on the ancestral Ho-Chunk land known as DeJope. And it shows how much we value this nation-to-nation relationship, and how dedicated we are to affirming it, improving it, and communicating its importance to the community.

What we now call Bascom Hill was sacred to the Ho-Chunk people for thousands of years before Europeans arrived here. The hill was the site of several mounds, including a water spirit effigy mound that was destroyed when Bascom Hall was built on the sunrise, or eastern side, of the glacial drumlin that makes up Bascom and Observatory hills. There were at least three water spirit effigy mounds on campus property near Lake Mendota, and of the three, one remains on the sunset or western end of Observatory Hill and is now part of the national register of historic places. The Ho-Chunk serve as caretakers of the mounds that remain.

For many years, UW–Madison was not mindful of this history, and we paid little attention to our relationship with the descendants of those who were here long before us. But we are working to change that.

A little over two years ago, we gathered on Bascom Hill to dedicate the Our Shared Future heritage marker. The marker recognizes this land as the ancestral home of the Ho-Chunk people, acknowledges their forced removal, and honors their history of resistance and resilience.

At that time, I acknowledged that no plaque or monument could adequately convey a complicated and difficult history. But it could prompt a conversation. We have continued that conversation in many ways since then:

• We hired our first Director of Tribal Relations, Aaron Bird Bear, to work full-time on strengthening our relationships with the First Nations of Wisconsin.

• We are hosting events to inform and educate our campus and community about our relationship with Native Nations. Most recently, we had a Treaty Day panel discussion with top legal experts from the Ho-Chunk Nation.

• UW Law School is raising the profile of its Indian Law program and will install a display of the flags of Wisconsin’s Native Nations later this academic year.

• Through Bucky’s Tuition Promise, we assure any low-income Native American student from within Wisconsin that they can attend UW-Madison and pay no tuition or fees.

• We’ve graduated more Native American attorneys than any other law school in the country, and our Great Lakes Indigenous Law Center serves as a resource for Native Nations and their citizens.

• And we continue to expand the ways in which we incorporate teaching and learning about Native Nations into our curriculum.

I am proud of the progress we have made, and I also know that there is much more work to do.

The Ho-Chunk Nation flag, the flag of Wisconsin, and the flag of the United States rose together and flew together today – moving in unison with the wind – as a symbol of our determination to work together in a spirit of collaboration and innovation in this special place that has served as an extraordinary meeting place for many, many years.