Bascom Hill was crowded as the campus community watched the historic raising of the Ho-Chunk flag over the University of Wisconsin-Madison Friday morning — the first time a different nation’s flag flew on Bascom.
The event was put into motion as a way to continue the process of what the university calls “Our Shared Future,” an initiative put in place to acknowledge the shared past between the university and the sovereign peoples of the Ho-Chunk Nation and other First Nations of Wisconsin, constructing a better future together
In his opening remarks, the Director of Tribal Relations at UW-Madison Aaron Bird Bear explained that flag-raising ceremonies are a common and an important part of contemporary Ho-Chunk culture. The event was meant to represent strides forward from “ignorance to awareness” on campus, a phrase that was repeated throughout the program.
The ceremony began with an address by Traditional Chief Clayton Winneshiek, a Ho-Chunk dignitary. He spoke about the importance of remembering who is living on the land and why.
“I was kind of saddened that this isn’t an everyday deal, where you see this Ho-Chunk Nation flag flying here on Ho-Chunk land,” Winneshiek began. “But to acknowledge the Ho-Chunk people, it’s a start.”
Chief Winneshiek was also slotted to do the invocation to begin the ceremony, but in the Ho-Chunk tradition to “not pass up elders,” he invited his father, Gordon Thunder, to do it instead.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank also took the podium to give remarks on behalf of the university, underlining that this raising of the flag is only the beginning of the conversation — not the end.
“I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, in moving from ignorance to awareness, but I’m acutely aware that there is more work to be done,” Blank said.
With Blank slated to leave the university next summer, she ended her remarks with the assurance that she will inform her predecessor about the commitment to furthering collaboration with First Nations people and its importance.
The Color Guard of the Sanford WhiteEagle Legion welcomed the flag raising as the Wisconsin Dells Singers sang the Ho-Chunk Flag Song. As the Color Guard marched in, the flag pole on Bascom Hall slowly started to reveal the American flag, the Wisconsin Flag and then the Ho-Chunk Nation flag.
The three flags waved together in the wind, lit up by the sun. Those in attendance of the ceremony were asked to think about the events Teejop — the Ho-Chunk term for the land in which the university sits — has seen and how history has laid out for the ceremony to come into being.
Even though the general mood was excitement in attendees, the happiness was underlined by a deep sorrow in the acknowledgment of the atrocities inflicted on First Nations people throughout history.
“This school was founded, and Wisconsin became a state in 1848, well into the beginning of the removal of the Ho-Chunk People to the west of the Mississippi,” Vice President Karena Thundercloud, who made remarks on behalf of the Ho-Chunk Nation, said. “In 1863, as the school admitted its first women students, the Ho-Chunk People petitioned for citizenship but were denied.”
Thundercloud echoed sentiments made earlier in the ceremony, taking care to point out that the flag-raising ceremony is a step in the right direction, even if there is much more work to be done.
“This occasion you are witnessing today is not only an acknowledgment of all that is history, but a testimony that our community is intertwined. This ceremony will enhance the conversation ... that moves us from ignorance to awareness.”
The ceremony was brought to an end with a song of Dejope by the Wisconsin Dells Singers, honoring the history of the land where the event took place. The Color Guard invited “warriors” to join them in their presentation of the flag at the end of the ceremony.