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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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