Ho-Chunk Nation
Flag Ho-chunk.png
Total population
6,563 in 2010[1]
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( Wisconsin)
English, Ho-Chunk[2]
Waaksik Wosga, Native American Church[3]
Related ethnic groups
other Ho-Chunk, Otoe, Iowa people, and Missouria[3]

The Ho-Chunk Nation (Ho-Chunk language: Hocąk) is a federally recognized tribe of the Ho-Chunk with traditional territory across five states in the United States: Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri. The other federally recognized tribe of Ho-Chunk people is the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. The tribe separated when its members were forcibly relocated first to an eastern part of Iowa known as the Neutral Ground, then to Minnesota, South Dakota and later to the current reservation in Nebraska.[4]

Historically, the surrounding Algonquin tribes referred to them by a term that evolved to Winnebago, which was later used as well as by the French and English. The Ho-Chunk Nation have always called themselves Ho-Chunk. The name Ho-Chunk comes from the word Hocaagra (Ho meaning "voice", cąk meaning "sacred", ra being a definitive article) meaning "People of the Sacred Voice".[3]


Ho-Chunk nation president Marlon WhiteEagle (right) and US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh (left) meet in 2021
Ho-Chunk nation president Marlon WhiteEagle (right) and US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh (left) meet in 2021

The Ho-Chunk Nation is headquartered in Black River Falls, Wisconsin.[5] With the adoption of its most recent constitution in 1994, which restored the tribe's name for itself, the Ho-Chunk Nation, the modern tribal government structured itself after the federal and state governments, with executive, legislative and judicial branches. Executive and legislative members are elected. All of the tribe's members make up the fourth branch of government, the general council.

The nation's current president is Marlon WhiteEagle.[6] The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is Todd R. Matha, alongside two Associate Justices: Tricia Zunker and David J.W. Klauser.[7] The legislature currently consists of:[8]

Land base

Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin lands as of 2020: .mw-parser-output .legend{page-break-inside:avoid;break-inside:avoid-column}.mw-parser-output .legend-color{display:inline-block;min-width:1.25em;height:1.25em;line-height:1.25;margin:1px 0;text-align:center;border:1px solid black;background-color:transparent;color:black}.mw-parser-output .legend-text{}  Land with reservation status   Off-reservation trust land
Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin lands as of 2020:
  Land with reservation status

The Ho-Chunk Nation is considered a "non-reservation" tribe, as members historically had to acquire individual homesteads in order to regain title to ancestral territory.[9] Many tribal members privately own their own land. The tribe oversees and maintains parcels of land placed in Trust as Indian Trust Land as designated by the federal government, Secretary of the Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), spread over Adams, Clark, Crawford, Dane, Eau Claire, Jackson, Juneau, La Crosse, Marathon, Monroe, Rock, Sauk, Shawano, Vernon, and Wood counties, Wisconsin.[10] The federal government has granted legal reservation status to some of these parcels, but the Ho-Chunk nation does not have a contiguous reservation in the traditional sense.[11] The nation is actively seeking to reacquire more traditional land and place it into trust status.[12]

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Ho-Chunk Nation reservation parcels totaled 3.46 square miles (8.96 km2) in 2020, with an additional 12.57 square miles (32.56 km2) of off-reservation trust land. The combined reservation and off-reservation trust land have a total area of 16.03 square miles (41.51km2), of which 15.93 square miles (41.27km2) is land and 0.09 square miles (0.24km2) is water.[13] As of the census of 2020, the total population living on Ho-Chunk Nation Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land was 1,577.[14]


George Catlin, Gathering Wild Rice - Winnebago, 1861-1869
George Catlin, Gathering Wild Rice - Winnebago, 1861-1869

The Ho-Chunk cultivated a variety of agricultural products for subsistence, including corn, squash, beans, and other products. They stored these in fiber bags and pits dug in the ground for winter use. They traveled up the Fox and Wisconsin rivers to hunt both small and large game, crossed the Mississippi to reach the prairies to hunt buffalo, and also fished in nearby rivers and lakes.[15]

The Ho-Chunk held many ceremonies. The major summer ceremonial was the Medicine Dance, which included a secret ceremony for members of the Medicine Dance Society, a religious society open to both men and women, as well as public rituals. The winter feast was a clan ceremony intended to increase war and hunting powers; the spring Buffalo Dance was a magical ceremonial for calling the bison herds.[16]

Ho-Chunk women were responsible for growing, gathering and processing food for their families, including agricultural products and a wide variety of roots, nuts and berries, as well as sap from maple trees. In addition, women learned to recognize and use a wide range of roots and leaves for medicinal and herbal purposes. Women also cooked game and prepared food and meals for the hunters to sustain them while traveling. They also tanned the hides to make clothing and storage bags.[17]

Ho-Chunk men were hunters as well as warriors in times of conflict. As hunters, they would catch fish by spearing them and clubbing the fish to death. The men would also hunt game such as muskrat, mink, otter, beaver, and deer.[18] Leaders among the men acted in political relations with other tribes. Some men created jewelry out of silver and copper that both men and women would wear. To become men, boys would go through a rite of passage at puberty, fasting for a period, in hopes of acquiring a guardian spirit.[19]


The Ho-Chunk Nation speaks Ho-Chunk language (Hocąk), which is a Chiwere-Winnebago language, part of the Siouan-Catawban language family.[2] With Hocąk speakers increasingly limited to a declining number of elders, the tribe has created a Language Division within the Heritage Preservation Department aimed at documenting and teaching the language. The division has developed a community outreach program for language revitalization, a Language Apprenticeship Program, and "EeCoonį". This program is operated at Christmas Mountain in Wisconsin Dells; it immerses young children in the language with the help of language instructors, eminent speakers, and language apprentices, among other efforts.[20]


Women at a Ho Chunk PowWow in Wisconsin - 2006
Women at a Ho Chunk PowWow in Wisconsin - 2006

Oral history suggests some of the tribe may have been forcibly relocated up to 13 times by the US federal government to steal land through forced treaty cession, losses estimated at 30 million acres in Wisconsin alone. In the 1870s, a majority of the tribe returned to their homelands in Wisconsin. Under the Homestead Act, some tribal members gained title to 40-acre (16 ha) parcels of land.[3]

The nation's flag was adopted in 1992. Its five colors (red, white, green, blue, and black) all represent animals of particular clans and have corresponding meanings in the tribe's oral history. The flag features the nation's seal and is surrounded by ornate designs in a field of white, all surrounded by a blue border.[21]

Today, the Ho-Chunk Nation owns and operates several casinos, Ho-Chunk Gaming, in Black River Falls, Baraboo, Madison, Nekoosa, Tomah, and Wittenberg, Wisconsin.[22] They also own numerous restaurants and hotels connected to the casinos, as well as numerous gas stations. The Ho-Chunk Nation is the largest employer in Jackson and Sauk counties, employing roughly 3,100 people.[10]

In 2015 the Ho-Chunk Nation passed a resolution amending their constitution to include the rights of nature.[23][24] By 2020 a working group was determining how to integrate the resolution into their constitution, laws, regulations, and processes.[25]

Notable tribal members

Mitchell Red Cloud Jr., tribal member and decorated Marine who was killed in combat in Korea
Mitchell Red Cloud Jr., tribal member and decorated Marine who was killed in combat in Korea

See also


  1. ^ Division of Intergovernmental Relations (July 2016). Tribes of Wisconsin (PDF). Madison: Wisconsin Department of Administration. p. 44. Retrieved October 9, 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Ho-Chunk". Ethnologue. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d Pritzker (2000), p. 475.
  4. ^ https://www.wpm.edu/index.php/plan-visit/educators/wirp/nations/ho-chunk .
  5. ^ "Tribal Directory". National Congress of American Indians. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
  6. ^ "The Office of the President". Ho-Chunk Nation. Archived from the original on July 7, 2016. Retrieved June 26, 2016.
  7. ^ "Judicial Branch". Ho-Chunk Nation. Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  8. ^ "Legislative Branch". Ho-Chunk Nation. Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  9. ^ Loew 2001, p. 48.
  10. ^ a b "Ho-Chunk Nation". Retrieved July 6, 2020.
  11. ^ Tribes of Wisconsin (PDF). Madison: Wisconsin Department of Administration Division of Intergovernmental Relations. July 2022. p. 12. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  12. ^ "Department of Administration". Ho-Chunk Nation. Retrieved July 15, 2022.
  13. ^ "2020 Gazetteer Files". census.gov. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  14. ^ "2020 Decennial Census: Ho-Chunk Nation Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land, WI--MN". data.census.gov. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  15. ^ "Ho-Chunk". Milwaukee Public Museum. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
  16. ^ "Ho-Chunk: Overview, Culture, History, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
  17. ^ Kindscher, Kelly; Hurlburt, Dana P. (October 1998). "Huron Smith's ethnobotany of the Hocąk (Winnebago)". Economic Botany. 52 (4): 352–372. doi:10.1007/bf02862065. ISSN 0013-0001. S2CID 20652394.
  18. ^ Radin, Paul. "The Autobiography of a Winnebago Indian," American Archaeology and Ethnology 16.7 (1920): 381-473
  19. ^ "Winnebago History and Culture". Native American Nations. Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  20. ^ "Our Mission". Hoocąk Waaziija Haci Language Division.
  21. ^ Crawley, Katie (November 25, 2020). "City to Fly Ho-Chunk Nation Flag at Madison Municipal Building". City of Madison. Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  22. ^ "Wisconsin Indian Casinos by Tribe". 500 Nations. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
  23. ^ de la Terre, Juliee (September 26, 2015). "Ho-Chunk Nation adds "Rights of Nature" to their constitution". Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN). Retrieved June 2, 2022.
  24. ^ "Ho-Chunk Nation General Council Approves Rights of Nature Constitutional Amendment - First Tribal Nation to Advance the Rights of Nature". Center for World Indigenous Studies. September 20, 2015. Retrieved June 2, 2022.
  25. ^ "Ho-Chunk Nation Annual Report" (PDF). Ho-Chunk Nation. 2020. A Rights of Nature Workgroup has been meeting to determine the best course moving forward with incorporating the rights of nature into the Ho-Chunk Nation’s constitution, laws, regulations, and processes.


Further reading