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Outlining the history of the Ho Chunk Nation in Milwaukee

Bill Quakenbush, Ho Chunk Nation’s Tribal Preservation Officer
Bill Quackenbush
Bill Quackenbush, Ho Chunk Nation’s Tribal Preservation Officer

Wisconsin has a rich Native American history that is not only crucial to the formulation of the state, but the founding of Milwaukee. One of the most prominent tribes in the Milwaukee area is the Ho Chunk Nation — their history goes all the way back to when glaciers were still on the Great Lakes.

According to Bill Quackenbush, Ho Chunk Nation’s Tribal Preservation Officer, the historical fight for the Ho Chunk people to simply remain on the land that is native to them has not always been easy.

“Ho Chunk people have fought long and hard through time to remain in place in our ancestral homelands, which is Wisconsin. And did so at great cost,” says Quackenbush. “[We] lost a lot of individuals through the years of removals.”

When speaking about the history of the Ho Chunk people, Quackenbush was sure to point out the sheer amount of time that the tribe has been in the area, but also touched on what the lifestyle was like for a group in a frigid climate.

“When we talk about the lifestyle in the area, current day Milwaukee, there is much adaptation and change through time,” says Quackenbush. “We had to adapt or else we would have ceased to exist much like the animals of old and the plants of old.”

Quackenbush explained that the adaptation of the Ho Chunk isn't simply encapsulated in history, rather, it still defines the group and is crucial to preserving the contemporary form of the tribes lifestyle and culture.

“We always talk about how we have adapted through time to meet the current needs, and in today's day and age we continue to have the same process and mentality as we adapt and live amongst a society that has a different culture, and we prefer to have our own unique way of doing things that has gotten us through thousands of years,” says Quackenbush.

Quackenbush says that the history of Ho Chunk peoples is often overlooked and distorted — something he says is partly due to inculcated educational misconceptions that can often leave people misinformed.

In addition to this, he says that the proclivity for the Ho Chunk people to preserve and proliferate their culture via spoken word can also be a contributing factor to why it has been challenging to document their history.

“The reason why I think there is a lack of information is: history has always been written for the most part by people who are coming here to observe something new and they write about it,” says Quackenbush. “When you encounter roots or organizations, or tribes for example, that are based solely on oral traditional practices it's hard to get an accurate document created.”

Corrected: November 29, 2021 at 5:12 PM CST
We had misspelled Bill Quackenbush's name in an earlier version. His last name is Quackenbush, not Quakenbush.
Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Beck Andrew Salgado was a producer with Lake Effect.
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