Ho Chunk: People of the Sacred Language

Published on May 20, 2014 by Amy

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Ho-Chunk Nation Flag
Ho-Chunk Nation Flag

The Ho Chunk People have remained and continue to remain one of the strongest indigenous Nations in the United States. This is because the Elders of the Nation are honored and their teachings have upheld throughout history.

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Ho Chunk Elders say that history begins with the creation of all things on earth. They say that Ho Chunk means “People of the Big Voice,” or “People of the Sacred Language.” Ho Chunks have always occupied lands in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota. They have hunted, fished, and gathered plants to provide their food source. The land was sacred because through it the Creator provided all their needs: Food, Clothing, Lodging and the means for their culture to thrive in its existence.

The Ho Chunk people respected the land and took care to harvest from the land only what they needed and never with greed. They were a benevolent people. The people numbered in the thousands. The Clan Chiefs watched over their people and performed their clan duties with reverence and diligence, teaching their offspring to do the same.

Every member of the Nation has his or her place within the clan system and within the Nation. There was never any identity crisis in the old days, because children were reared in a very strict society with rigid guidelines and duties to perform on a daily basis. The People were rich with culture and pride to perform their duties well.

As Caretakers of the land, they moved as the food source did, and during seasons providing the plant life abundant to this region. Villages moved to conserve the area’s resources. Eventually some of the Chiefs took their people south along the Mississippi and migrated to warmer climates. Thus we have some southern tribes that speak dialects of the Ho Chunk Language (e.g., Otoe, Ponca, and Iowa).

Everyday Life

The men hunted while the women gathered. The food staples consisted of corn, squash, green plants, roots, berries, making maple syrup and maple candy, venison, fresh fish, and small game. After harvest, the food storage process consisted of drying foods naturally for the long winters.

Women tanned hides, wove mats from the strong grasses near the waters’ edge, made clothing, and taught the younger women. The grandmothers and grandfathers played an important part in the instruction and rearing of children.

The Dagas, or Uncles, were the disciplinarians within a family unit. There was no need for a mother or father to raise their voices, for the practice was to train the children to have such respect for a Daga. Then the chlildren lived in fear of the punishment (usually work, or a pail of water thrown on the head) from their Daga that they were well-mannered and productive children.

The Ho Chunk people are credited as being the mound builders within the region. The large effigy and conical mounds are found in southern Wisconsin and along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, these were solely the long inhabited areas of the pre-Columbian Ho Chunk people. These effigy mounds appear in the shapes of animals and birds, and many contain burials. It is important to note that all of these mounds were built with primitive equipment and by hand. They are so symmetrically accurate that it is amazing to view them today with the assistance of a compass.

The Ho Chunk were successful farmers due to their “raised garden” beds, where they grew specialized garden plants for sustenance. This successful gardening would later be an attribute, as in later times the United States government have 40-acre plots to each family encouraging them to farm.

Ho Chunk men were gifted in the art of silversmith and creating copper jewelry. They were able to design jewelry and body decorations for both men and women. This jewelry, particularly earrings showed the wealth of the individual.

Source: ho-chunknation

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