Wisconsin Winnebago fades into history as signing of the new constitution brings on The Ho Chunk Nation


Nekoosa, WI – Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Ada Deer signs the Ho Chunk Nation’s Constitution as Ona Garvin (left), Tracy Thundercloud (sitting), and JoAnn Jones look on.

Reporter: Emma Snowball

The tribe which was once known and recognized as the Wisconsin Winnebago Nation strikes a new path into the future by changing their constitution and name.  Meet and greet the Ho Chunk Nation!

The day formerly named “Winnebago Day” sparked the beginning of a new era in the forever changing pages of history for the Ho Chunk Nation.  On Friday November 25, 1994 the new constitution became an official document as it was endorsed by President of the Ho Chunk Nation JoAnn Jones, Vice President Wilfrid Cleveland, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Ada Deer, and members of the Ho Chunk legislature.

Rainbow Bingo, one of the Ho Chunk Nation’s 22 enterprises was the site of this much celebrated historical event.  Grand preparations were made to accommodate the hundreds of people present to observe the very special day.

At 4 p.m. a reception was held in the heated tent which was located at the front door of Rainbow Bingo.  Also, free door prizes were given to everyone whose ticket number was drawn.  (Including but not limited to tribal members)

The specially prepared buffet was served inside the glass enclosed non-smoking room of Rainbow Bingo at 5:40 p.m.  Officials, Native American and non Native American were special guests of the Ho Chunk Nation.  They enjoyed and shared the meal with tribal members.

At 6:50 the ceremony began for signing of the new constitution.  Douglas Long, member of the Buffalo Clan was emcee for the day.  Remarks were given by President of the Ho Chunk Nation JoAnn Jones, Mary Natani – Member of the Constitutional Team, and Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs – Ada Deer.

President JoAnn Jones began by introducing the new Ho Chunk Legislature: Vice-President – Wilfrid Cleveland, Tracey Thundercloud, Douglas Greengrass, James Greendeer, Dallas Whitewing, Ona Garvin, Byron Thundercloud, Alvin Cloud, George Garvin, Jacob Lonetree, and Mary Ann Yazzie.  She then introduced members of the Secretarial Election Board: Greg Butterfield, Francis Decorah, Georgiann Funmaker, Ona Garvin, Jacob Lonetree, and Diane Rosen.

President Jones welcomed everyone to Rainbow Bingo, one of the Ho Chunk Nation’s 22 enterprises, and to their sovereign lands.  She also thanked everyone for their continued support.  But most especially she thanked the elders, because it was through their prayers that moved our Nation forward.  President Jones went on to thank Ada Deer for her presence on ‘Winnebago Day’ which is on a holiday weekend.  Also in attendance was James Klauser – Representative for Wisconsin Governor Thompson.

“We’ve undergone dramatic changes and this evening is a tribute to our people.  The Ho Chunk people have restored our government,” President JoAnn Jones proudly remarked. “The Ho Chunk people have established strong laws, ordinances and practices to regulate our casinos.  The Ho Chunk Nation now has better services available to our people in the areas of housing, health and education,” proclaimed the leader of the Ho Chunk Nation.

“We have produced a new and stronger constitution to protect our culture and we will be able to meet challenges of the future,” President Jones summarized with “The new constitution is a beautiful document but it is fragile.  We now face the challenge to protect and implement it’s changes.  Because it will carry us into the future as it is a road map which can and will provide direction.”

Immediately following President Jones, Mary Natani gave a brief history of the Ho Chunk Nation and how the new constitution came to be the way it is today.

  • It took 2 years to have the new constitution written the way it is now.
  • Input was received form all the communities, and it was discussed in great length.
  • The new constitution is based upon the age old concept of government by consensus.
  • The ultimate power of the government is General Council.
  • The constitution will allow for tribal courts and a police system.

Mary recounted the time when she and Ada working in Washington D.C.

“She is one tough lady,” reported Mary. “Because even as a would be mugger tried to steal her purse, Ada did not flinch.  Instead she chased and held the would be mugger until the police arrived.”

Mary further stated, “I am so thankful that I am on the same side of the political fence as Ada.”

Mary congratulated the Ho Chunk people. 

As Ada Deer began she also congratulated the Ho Chunk people.  She acknowledged her friends and acquaintances from the Ho Chunk Nation.  “The new constitution will give the Ho Chunk Nation an independent form of government with separation of powers and a system with checks and balances.

The make up of which includes General Council, Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary.  Under the new constitution, the Ho Chunk Nation will be able to establish a tribal court system and to apply laws of the tribe,” Explained Ada.

Since January 19, 1963 when the first constitution was drawn up, virtually no changes have happened with the exception of 2 amendments in 1967.  May 27, 1994 a new authorization was given to renew the constitution.

On November 1, 1994 a letter was sent to Robert Jaeger – Superintendent of the Great Lakes Agency notifying him of the approval of the new constitution for the Ho Chunk Nation.  Approval was given pursuant to authority given to the Secretary.

“You’ve changed your name from Winnebago which may have been a Chippewa word to a word from your own language – Ho Chunk,” said Ada.  She challenged the Ho Chunk Tribal Members to read, understand and honor the new constitution. “You can amend it, change it, but it is a living document by which you carry out your authority as a sovereign nation.  It’s a lot of work to be a Ho Chunk, so do your homework.  Read, understand and implement the constitution.”

Following the speeches, the new Ho Chunk Constitution was signed by President JoAnn Jones, Ada Deer, and other members of the legislature.  Staying with Ho Chunk tradition, gifts were given to special guests.  Blankets were given to several elders.  A shawl was given to Loretta Metoxen.  Ada Deer received a ‘Winnebago’ basket.  Numerous other gifts were given.

Finishing up the day’s events, honor songs were sung by the Lake Delton and Wisconsin Dells singers.  The Chief’s Song and Bear Clan Song were sung.  The Thunder Bear drum was also present.  Singing was for a short time, as winners of other raffles were announced and as most the Ho Chunk Tribal Members visited with one another and made plans to meet at the Rainbow Casino.  Arriving as Wisconsin Winnebago, leaving as Ho Chunks after the signing of the new Ho Chunk Constitution!

“It’s a lot of work to be a Ho Chunk, so do your homework. 
Read, understand and implement the constitution.” – Ada Deer

This article originally appeared in Ho-Chunk Wo-Lduk, Volume VIII, Issue 19, Early December 1994