Protecting our Natural Resources - Sauk County Indigenous Peoples’ Day

By Ardith Van Riper

     Sauk County, in collaboration with the Ho-Chunk Nation, established the first annual Indigenous People’s Day.  The County recognized and promoted contributions of Indigenous Peoples to our county, state, and nation during various events.

     “Sauk County has the honor of devoting three days to Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” said Sauk County Board Chairman Peter Vedro.

     One day was dedicated to Restoration, one to Celebration, and one to Commemoration.

     ‘One Sauk, Naturally’ motto was adopted by Sauk County, its five municipalities, and the Ho-Chunk Nation. 

     Chairman Vedro stated, “Our focus is protecting our natural resources, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the Earth we walk on, and all the aspects that support life.”

     Ho-Chunk Nation District 2 Representative Kristin WhiteEagle added, “One Sauk, Naturally was generated and initiated by Sauk County and they reached out to the Ho-Chunk Nation.  The Ho-Chunk Nation said ‘yes, we want to be a part of this’ because it’s about the protection of natural resources.  What better people could you reach out to and ask to partner with that than the Indigenous Peoples of this area.”

     Day of Restoration was October 14 and county residents worked with the lands and with the arts.

     The day began at Maa Wakacak (formerly known as Badger Property) and attendees gathered seeds from the prairie.  Ho-Chunk Nation Environmental Services Program Manager Randy Poelma organized and educated the group on restoring the prairie grass. 

     Then a community mural painting took place at the House of Wellness.  Ho-Chunk artist Kelly Logan created a mural painting of a young Chief Yellow Thunder and participation from the community and children completed the mural with painting of the flowers.  The artist painted his rendition based on two photos of an elderly Chief Yellow Thunder and included Yellow Thunder’s wife at his side.  An interpretive panel with pictures and text describing Chief Yellow Thunder’s legacy was also on display.

     Chief Yellow Thunder purchased 40 acres in the early 1800s as a way for the Ho-Chunk people to return to Wisconsin.  A memorial is located on Highway A near Baraboo and was constructed by the Historical Society in 1909. 

     Next, Oak Savanna Restoration took place at White Mound Park. Savannas are defined in terms of the openness of the tree canopy, allowing grasses and other vegetation to grow.  Prior to European settlement, the oak savannah was one of the most common ecosystems in the Midwestern North America but today, it is one of the rarest plant communities on Earth.  A degraded oak savanna remains in White Mound Park and participants were invited to hike the Willie Walsh Nature Trail and prune vegetation.  Sauk County Parks and Recreations Manager Matt Stieve led the group hike.

     The Willie Walsh Nature Trail winds through the oak savannah in White Mound Park and several metal benches are available for visitors’ use.  The Ho-Chunk Nation funded the trail and benches, the Welding Class of 2016 from the Reedsburg Area High School constructed the benches, Wisconsin Metals donated the metal, and Sauk County Two Wheelers hauled the benches to their locations on the trail.

     Day of Celebration was October 13 and was held at the Sauk County Fairgrounds in Baraboo.  Ho-Chunk cultural arts and an interactive Friendship Dance exhibition took place.  Emcee for the dance exhibition was Evan Logan with Eric Logan drumming and singing.  Pictures displayed around the pavilion were colored by Sauk County 4th graders who learned about Yellow Thunder and the Ho-Chunk Nation.

     Breakout sessions and an Elder Food Fundraiser were offered during the afternoon.  Booths providing information on Yellow Thunder, LEAF, Ho-Chunk basket making, Man Mound, Bead art and Ho-Chunk Nation Museum, Native American Veterans display, Lacrosse clinics, and meet the Ho-Chunk Nation President Marlon WhiteEagle were on hand.

     Day of Commemoration was October 14 and took place at the Sauk County Courthouse.  Prayer opened the ceremony and speeches from various dignitaries were given.  Drummers rendered a flag and a veteran song.

     “For the first time in Sauk County’s history, the flag of the Ho-Chunk people will be installed in the Chambers at the Sauk County Board of Supervisors to remind us all that this is not an event but this is for the future,” explained Chairman Vedro.

     Representative WhiteEagle declared, “We want these to continue throughout the year.  We want more than one day acknowledging Indigenous People because we are here every single day.  We’re here.  We’re living.  We still exhibit our culture and we’re still trying to continue our traditions.”