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The Ho-Chunk or Winnebago

Of all the nations documented in this piece, no nation has gone through a longer or stranger evolutionary process in gaining a name. The Ho-Chunk's present name means "sacred language" or "master language". For a long time their name for themselves was "Hotcangara", "the people of the big speech" (ENAT, 250-251).

Before returning to a term based upon their Hocak Wazijaci language, a Siouan based tongue that made them unique in the Great Lakes region, they were saddled with many different, and several not were flattering names.

Prior to the adoption of a new tribal constitution on November 1, 1994, the Ho- Chunk people were known as the Wisconsin Winnebago. The name Winnebago comes from the name given them by the neighboring Sac & Fox tribes centuries ago. It means "people of the filthy waters". From this term, the French called them "Puants". From this the British translated the term and called them "Stinkards". Another poor translation of their name Hotcangara was "fish eaters", but it was the term Winnebago that stuck. The ending of the term Winnebago and return to their native language as the basis for the tribe's name is part of a larger effort to revive and save the Hocak Wazijaci language amongst the 4,700 Ho-Chunk in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Wisconsin has been the home of the Ho-Chunk for centuries, their traditional lands being the Door Peninsula, the eastern arm of Green Bay. Today, the Ho-Chunk maintain a 4,200 acre reservation in Wisconsin. There is another group of Winnebago which still call themselves by that name located in Nebraska. The Nebraska branch of this tribe does not have a flag.

The Ho-Chunk flag was adopted in 1992 ("Tribal Flag", undated pamphlet). It is a white flag bearing an ornate horizontal stripe across the middle and the tribal seal in the center of the flag. Both the stripe and the tribal seal employ five basic colors, red, white, green, blue and black. These five colors represent specific animals in the Kinship system whereby each clan is associated with a particular animal and hopes to gain the admirable quality or qualities of that animal through association. Each color also has special references and meanings in the sacred tribal stories and these meanings are recalled by their use in the flag.

The seal, which was adopted in 1984 (Ibid), includes two of the most important animals in Native American beliefs, the thunderbird and the bear. The Thunderbird, which is represented by the likeness of an eagle, represents the six upper clans from which all Ho-Chunk chiefs must come. It carries a pipe representing peace which is also what the upper clans represent. The bear stands for the six lower clans. The Bear is the "Chief of the Earth" in Ho-Chunk belief. In the Ho-Chunk society the members of the Bear clan provide the soldiers and the police. They are the maintainers of order.

Separating the Thunderbird from the bear is the representation of a warclub. This design was common amongst the many tribes found in the western reaches of the Great Lakes. The war club and peace pipe combination stand for war and peace, as might be expected.

The Ho-Chunk continue to practice and abide by many of their traditional ways and customs that predate the coming of the white man. One example is that a member of the Thunderbird clan is supposed to marry only members of the Bear clan.

Don Healy, Bisbee, Az 85603