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Tag: First Nations

Acknowledgment of Wisconsin’s First Nations People and Land

As a resident of the state of Wisconsin, I live, work, and find recreation on the traditional homelands of several First Nations, including the Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi peoples. These Nations were the original human inhabitants of the place that we today call Wisconsin. They each have relationships with the land and waters of the region stretching back to time out of mind. While the achievements of the United States (established in 1776) are frequently discussed in political speech, schools, films, and now even in a successful Broadway musical, it often goes unacknowledged that this nation was created from land that it unfairly took through a combination of deception, intimidation, and force. Such was the case here in Wisconsin.

Thus, in support of historical accuracy and out of respect for these peoples, I believe it is necessary and important for me as a historian, teacher, and citizen to acknowledge Wisconsin’s First Nations people and land. I share and reflect here on some aspects of Wisconsin history that I believe are important for all Wisconsinites to know and consider but that are often neglected.

The Green Bay area, which is the site of my home and my employer, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, is located within the traditional homelands of the Menominee Nation and the Ho-Chunk Nation. The Menominee were forced to cede the vast majority of their homelands, and their nation exists today only because they fought for restoration after the U.S. government terminated the tribe. The Ho-Chunk were repeatedly expulsed from their homelands and have tribal lands in Wisconsin today only because of their incredible resilience and persistence.

On the west side of Green Bay, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin has treaty lands that were unfairly taken away from them through the Dawes Allotment Act and other schemes. All told, the Oneida lost about 95% of their lands by the late twentieth century, when tribal gaming operations gave them resources to start buying back land. In addition to the Oneida people, who came to Wisconsin from New York state, there are other tribes in Wisconsin—including the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohicans and the Brothertown Indian Nation—who came here seeking refuge as they were pushed out of their eastern homelands. They placed their trust in the U.S. government, which, unfortunately, repeatedly betrayed the tribes’ confidence, as it did in so many similar cases.

As a settler whose European ancestors migrated to North America between the early seventeenth and the late nineteenth centuries, I recognize that I have benefited from the dispossession of Native people. Some of my ancestors, for example, had access to cheap land as a result of the federal policy of expulsing First Nations from eastern territories. I realize that I cannot undo the history of colonization, but I am committed to building a more just future for First Nations people through my actions as a teacher, scholar, citizen, and parent.

I express gratitude for the many First Nations elders, colleagues, students, and friends from whom I have learned so much; for the advocacy that First Nations people have done on behalf of their communities and the larger community of life; and for the resilience of First Nations people across Turtle Island.

Sincerely,

David Voelker

Green Bay, Wisconsin

* For more information about the history referenced here, I highly recommend Patty Loew’s, Indian Nations of Wisconsin, 2nd edition (2019) and The Ways: Stories on Culture & Language from Native Communities around the Central Great Lakes at theways.org.

Updated August 23, 2021

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Canonball Podcast Interviews on Environmental Humanities and Aldo Leopold’s “Sand County Almanac”

Canonball Podcast Logo

On March 25, 2021, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Professors Ryan Martin and Chuck Rybak at UW-Green Bay for two episodes of the Canonball podcast. (Here’s the official description of the program: “Canonball is a podcast out of Phoenix Studios at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay that covers the great works from a variety of disciplines. From movies to film to literature to video games, hosts Chuck Rybak and Ryan Martin discusses all things canonical.”)

In the first episode, which aired on April 8, we discussed the Environmental Humanities.

In the second episode, which aired on April 22 (Earth Day), we discussed Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac (1949), as well as Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Speaking of Nature,” from Orion Magazine (March/April 2017).

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Beyond Sustainability: Imagining an Ecological Future

This talk, available on YouTube, was the opening plenary session for the Common CAHSS 2020 Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay on November 30, 2020. Professor Ryan Martin shared the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Land Acknowledgment at the opening of the session, and Professor Alison Staudinger skillfully guided me through the questions at the end. In the conclusion of the talk, I quote a sentence from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, “All flourishing is mutual.” This phrase appears five times in the book (on pages 15, 20, 21, 166, and 382), and Kimmerer presents it as one of the “teachings of plants” mentioned in the book’s subtitle. Given the degree to which this talk was inspired and informed by writings and teachings of First Nations people, which have been offered freely to all people, including settler colonists, I’d like to encourage anyone who watches the talk to consider how the United States and Canada could move toward reciprocity and justice for First Nations people today–as an essential aspect of moving beyond sustainability.

We need to have an honest conversation about sustainability—not to demolish the concept, but to recognize that it has fallen short in helping us change our unsustainable ways.

This excerpt from the beginning of the talk provides a brief overview:

We need to have an honest conversation about sustainability—not to demolish the concept, but to recognize that it has fallen short in helping us change our unsustainable ways. In my talk this evening, I’d like to focus on several aspects of the public discussion of sustainability, in order to suggest a more honest, expansive, and holistic approach. We can’t begin to talk honestly about sustainability until we come to terms with unsustainability and the harm we have caused on this living planet—including harm to each other. To do that, we have to see things holistically, and as whole beings. We will need sustainable knowledge systems that recognize multiple ways of knowing, and we will need a more robust media system, that shares accurate information and supports honest dialogue. We’ll need to pay more attention to the connections between environmental issues and social and racial justice. Above all, we’ll need to be more imaginative—to envision futures in which we thrive together as members of the larger community of life.

For more information, see the Sources and Acknowledgments for the talk.

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