Several Ho-Chunk people travel, witness Sharice take oath to Congress


By Ken Luchterhand

The Ho-Chunk people have never experienced such an honor as having one of their own, Sharice Davids, take a large role in this nation’s government.

Sharice was sworn in as a U.S. Representative in Washington D.C. on Thursday, Jan. 3.

The occasion was a historic one, mainly because she and Deb Haaland, elected in the same election cycle, are the first Native American women to be elected to Congress. Haaland is from New Mexico while Sharice is from Kansas.

To help mark and celebrate the event, many Ho-Chunk people traveled to Washington D.C. to be part of it.

A mixed drum group, known as the Hocak Singers, performed during a Congressional reception for Sharice and Deb Haaland at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hotel. The Hocak Singers included Travis Rave, Cody Winneshiek, Gabe Funmaker, Cody Greendeer Sr., Elliot Funmaker, Frank Thunder, Maynard Rave Jr., William Collins, and Jason Pettibone.

Legislators Carly Lincoln, Henu Smith, Karena Thundercloud, and Kristin WhiteEagle attended the ceremony, along with President Wilfrid Cleveland. Also Nicole Homer, Caroline Grezlick, Kelly Jo Funmaker, and Collin Price.

Many Ho-Chunk veterans made the trip as well, including Chief Clayton Winneshiek, Levi Winneshiek, Pierre Decorah, Marlon WhiteEagle, Wally Johnson, Richard Snake, Ralph Snake, and Cari Fay.

Haaland and Davids embraced on the House floor as the newly-elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi congratulated the 116th Congress.

The new Congress is composed of a record number of women (126) members of the Congressional Black Caucus (55), Latinos (42), and the first Muslim woman to serve. Davids is the first LGBT person to represent Kansas.

Many Ho-Chunk dignitaries had high praise for Sharice and what she accomplished.

“For one thing, just generally speaking, on the past election for the federal government, it was good to know that there was such a diverse group of people – in particular, women that were running for seats,” President Cleveland said. “And it was also inspiring to know that they won seats and I think it’s because of that House of Representatives is now controlled by the Democrats.

“It brings pride to Ho-Chunk Nation for her to be sitting there. She brings a lot to Ho-Chunk Nation by being able to win that seat,” he said.

Sharice’s mother, Crystal Herriage, was present at the swearing-in ceremony.

“Just doing the opposite of what my adopted parents did was a start, but I guess I did some things right,” Herriage said. “Sharice has always been able to talk with people. From the time she was in first, second, and third grade, she was always willing to hear what people had to say and a great conversationalist.

“You could talk to her about shoes, about clothes, about anything and everything – she was willing to talk to everybody. I’m glad that we are all here, it’s nice to see native people, and people that support native people. I cried when I was meeting actor Mark Ruffalo. When we get together for things like Standing Rock, getting people to come out and vote – don’t let us be silenced anymore,” Herriage said.

The actual swear-in ceremony in the House of Representatives had a limited capacity; therefore most people were not able to witness the procedure in person.

“People went over to her office to watch the swearing in which was at like 11 or 11:30 a.m. which was aired on C-span,” said Michelle Greendeer-Rave, who also went to Washington D.C. to be present for Sharice’s historic moment.

“The reception was supposed to be at the Museum of American Indians but it had closed down the night before because they ran out of money from the government shutdown. So the coordinator had to find a hotel to host this for 1,000 (Native Americans) with caterers, and you name it. They moved it all to the Marriot,” Greendeer-Rave said. “The drum group was called upon as soon as we got in the door.”

“I loved it. Although the reception started officially at 5, I don’t think Sharice got there until 8 or 9 because Congress was in session and she couldn’t get out because they were doing those really important votes,” Greendeer-Rave said. “When she and Deb did get there, the crowd just followed them, and then obviously Mark Ruffalo showed up and then the crowd jumped in. It was just a hodge-podge of many, many people.”

President Cleveland said the moment signified empowerment of the women within society. He said that the Ho-Chunk is a paternalistic tribe of people. The men are more at the forefront of things that are happening and the woman is the one who maintains the home and the core part of the family. One of the things that she does is keep the family together and make sure that things are moving, she has control in the home, I would say. Looking at how we indigenous people look at the Earth we refer to the Earth as Mother Earth and everything comes from the mother, everything that we see out here – the creation – comes from the Mother Earth.

Cleveland said that looking at it from that perspective, and then looking at the fact that so many women were elected into the House of Representatives, signifies that women have that special purpose within the creation altogether.

“They have that special passion for life, and they can reunite and fix the government the way that it’s supposed to be,” Cleveland said. “Looking at it from way back, everything that is – on the creation – even the stories that we have, the woman has a special place within the Ho-Chunk Nation.”

Veterans made the trip to honor Sharice as well, and to witness a significant change in the federal government.  One veteran, Pierre Decorah, said he was proud to be there.

“It was a privilege as well as our honor very humbled to represent our great Hocak Nation. It was as if we were honored to witness and live history,” Decorah said.

This article was previously published in the Hocak Worak