The Ho-Chunk Nation was one of many Native American societies decimated after contact with European settlers. Unlike many such nationalities which have since died out, the Ho-Chunk Nation has managed to defy the odds and survive into the modern age.
Early history of the Ho-Chunk Nation
The early Ho-Chunk Nation formed in what is now Wisconsin, where they settled and built their traditional square homes. They were a society of hunters, fishers, gatherers, and farmers. Occasionally, their hunters would cross across the Mississippi River into the plains to the west to hunt buffalo or would take their boats up the Fox and Wisconsin rivers to find game.
The Ho-Chunk Nation was neighbors with the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples. They all spoke the same Siouan language and would often declare war on each other.
In 1634, the French explorer Jean Nicolet was the first European to make contact with the Ho-Chunk people. Other French traders and Alqonqian speakers soon followed after Nicolet.
After exposure to Europeans, the Ho-Chunk Nation was decimated by new diseases, starvation, and worsening warfare. In the end, the once-numerous nation was reduced to only a few hundred survivors.
Sovereignty and survival
Despite being at odds with the young United States for years, the Ho-Chunk Nation survived and was recognized as a sovereign nation in 1934. Soon after, the Wisconsin Ho-Chunk people formed a committee that became the base for the government that serves the nation to this day. They officially took the name Ho-Chunk in 1994, preferring that to their former name, Winnebago which meant “people of the dirty water” in Algonquian.
Today, there are around 8,000 Ho-Chunk people in the world, roughly 6,500 living on the 4,000 acres of land the tribe owns in Wisconsin. The tribe is striving to recover their language, traditions, and cultural heritage while retaining their identity in the modern world.