Indian Mission church shares Ho-Chunk history

By Marlon WhiteEagle

Tribal members have heard of the Indian Mission, but few know or take time to understand the history of the church at the center of it. The church was established in 1878.
The Ho-Chunk United Church of Christ is member of the Northwest Association of Wisconsin Conference. It’s the only Native American church in the conference.
At the Northwest Association’s 2018 annual meeting, a few Mission church members shared their views, observations and concerns to their fellow members.
Their Pastor David McBride, who said the church wanted to address “white privilege” questions, but thought it was better to invite the Ho-Chunk, introduced the Ho-Chunk tribal members.
First, to present was Youth Delegate Lexi Fay. She wrote a paper requesting prayers for tribal members and close friends who are dealing with drug and alcohol addiction.
Fay is a 17-year-old Black River Falls high school senior. She plans to attend technical college in Black River Falls after her high school graduation, eventually transferring to a college in Florida.
“I want to be a psychiatrist because I just really want to help people with depression, anixiety, OCD, etc. I want them to know they aren’t alone in the world,” Fay said.
“I ask for your prayers for the other youth, especially because majority of them have gotten into drugs and alcohol and need to be saved.”
The youth are getting involved in meth, heroin, cocaine, carfentanil, ecstasy, and pills, she said.
Fay has seen her friends make the “wrong choices” around the “wrong people” and end up in treatment, get out, relapsing, and ending up back in treatment.
“Please pray for my community and the people in it, because every weekend, or even everyday people are partying and doing things that could easily hurt their future and themselves,” Fay said.
“They should be going out and doing things to help each other come together like a big happy family, and doing things to have fun without drugs and partying all the time.”
Fay relies on her family and Ho-Chunk culture to keep herself positive.
“I love my people and being Native American, because our language and traditions are beautiful things to learn and be a part of,” Fay said.
“Powwows aren’t a place that allow drugs and alcohol, everyone is sober and it’s such a great feeling. That’s one of the reasons for how I know there’s still so much hope because everyone knows that keeping negative things out of powwows is super important.”
Fay ended with an inspirational thought.
“Our community is capable of so much more if we all work together to save, help, and love another,” Fay said.
Larry Littlegeorge represented information about the Doctrine of Discovery, a papal bull, or a public decree or charter, issued by a Pope Nicholas V in 1452.
“I’m from the United Church of Christ. I was baptized there in 1957,” Littlegeorge said. “My work is for the Doctrine of Discovery. I done a paper on this in high school, which was probably about 50 years ago. That’s how long I’ve known about this.”
The Doctrine of Discovery instructed a Portuguese monarchy “to invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ, to put them into perpetual slavery, and to take away all their possessions and property.”
The ideas found in this papal document were later woven into U.S. Indian law and, even today, is a shadow guiding the U.S. Indian policy, he said.
“Thus began the European assumption that the Native people of the hemisphere didn’t own the land they called their own, because there were not Christians,” Littlegeorge said.
“They took our kids out of our homes, and put them in white foster homes. They wanted to extinguish who we are. John Wayne didn’t kill off the last Indian. We’re still here,”
We are grounded more than ever in our ways, he said.
In closing, Littlegeorge shared 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jew.
“To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
“To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having law.
“To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.
“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings.”
“So when in Rome, you do as the Romans do,” Littlegeorge said. “So when you come here (to our native lands), maybe it was supposed to be; I come as an Indian and act as an Indian, as to win over as many as I can for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Hattie Walker shared some of the church’s history.
Walker is a long time member of the United Church of Christ, whose family were among the church’s first Ho-Chunk members.
Walker’s grandfather, her two uncles, my mother, my aunt, and two of their cousins were the first members of the Ho-Chunk United Church of Christ.
“As some of you know, our church has been in existence for a long time,” Walker said.
Walker shared a story of how the Missionaries decided to come to Ho-Chunk territory.
“Back in the 1800s, a gentleman got lost during a winter storm. You know our Wisconsin winter storms came be pretty wicked. But he got lost and some American Indians found him and brought him back to health. He was almost dead. They let him go and he was able to travel back to where he came from.
“Later on, they learned he was a professor at Mission House College in Plymouth. I know it as Lakeland College, but a long time ago is was Mission House College.”
Upon his return, he vowed to send some Missionary to help the Indians who helped him, she said.
“In 1858 is when the Missionaries came to our area. One of our Ho-Chunk became a lay pastor, his name was John Stacy,” Walker said.
“These Missionaries had a tough job. It took them 20 years to get a Ho-Chunk to become a member of the church.”
The Wisconsin Conference held the church property in trust, but in 2014, our Ho-Chunk United Church of Christ assumed responsibility of our church and the 17-acre property, she said.
“The church welcomes all; the congregation consists primarily of members of the Ho-Chunk Nation. It has long served as the center of the community, at various times providing social support,” Walker said.
“The church was pivotal in providing a community center and forum which eventually led to the establishment of the present day Ho-Chunk Nation government.”
JoDeen Lowe presented information on Ho-Chunk history.
“Good afternoon, everyone. Brothers and sisters, it’s a privilege to be here. My colleagues and I want to give you a picture of our encounters and our origins,” Lowe said.
“Recorded history shows first contact with Jean Nicolet and coming forward from there, we have numerous interactions with folks; primarily because, farmers liked the look of the land after all the timber had been taken off it.”
Ho-Chunk people had always been knows as good traders. They had access to timber, lead, and copper, which helped early colonies grow, she said.
Trading with other tribes was also one of the strong suits of the Ho-Chunk people, and we continue to do that today. You’re probably more familiar with some of our more modern trading mechanisms, which include our convenience stores, our casinos and hotels,” Lowe said.
The Mission has been at the center of Ho-Chunk life since 1800, since the church was established there. The church has been a focal point. The church served as a meeting place when the nation decided to go under the ERA and create its constitution, and develop form the modern government we have today. The church continues to play a role within that community.”
We invite you all to our church, she said.