The Ho Chunk (Winnebago) people share their pride and history annually through a powwow that attracts thousands of visitors and hundreds of dancers. But, how do they continue to tell their story beyond a four-day powwow? Since 2006, the Clans Sculpture Garden and Cultural Plaza shares the story of the tribe’s 12 clans. Located on the edge of a retail center, the sculpture garden offers visitors information about each clan. Clans are part of tribal society. Each tribal member belongs to a clan.
The Ho Chunk, whose homeland is the Green Bay, Wisconsin, area, came to Nebraska as part of forced tribal resettlement. The reservation is located in northeast Nebraska, about 75 minutes north of Omaha. A larger band of Ho Chunk is located in Wisconsin.
The sculpture garden was part of the tribe’s economic development program. It has become a tourist attraction, located just off Highway 77. Charles Aldrich, a Ho Chunk, was the artist for the project. Aldrich graduated from the University of South Dakota.
The garden tells the tribe’s story through 12 sculptures, with each sculpture facing a circle. The circle is important in Native American tradition. Each sculpture includes a plaque explaining the clan’s role.
The Thunder clan is one of the four upper clans. The other upper clan members are Warrior (Hawk), Eagle and Pigeon. The Thunder clan held a leadership role during peacetime. A scared pipe may be an example of the Thunder clan’s role.
Bear clan members controlled decisions regarding the earth. The clan acted as police officers during peacetime and was responsible for discipline. Bear clan members may be responsible for selecting camping sites, hunting and traveling decisions.
The Water Spirit clan was responsible for maintaining the tribe’s water supply. Members also would serve in medical roles, using herbs, ceremonies and water to treat people.
Eagle clan representatives provided security for the tribe’s chiefs. Warriors came from this clan during war.
The Buffalo clan acted as news reporters. Members would work as tribal intermediaries, sharing information between tribal leadership and members.
Snake clan representatives served as protectors of the tribe. They would defend the village against attack. The clan was also responsible for community service.
The Warrior (Hawk) clan served as soldiers during war. Members could display clothing items, such as eagle feathers, head dress and painted hands, as acts of honor or bravery.
The Fish clan acted as tribal engineers. They were responsible for tribal commerce and the environment. The Fish clan was held in high esteem, as its name – Ho Hikikarac – contained the first word in the tribe’s name – Ho.
Deer clan members were the tribe’s meteorologists. They learned to tell signs of nature and the weather. The clan was responsible for suggesting harvest time. Items on their clothing could identify clan members, including leaf prints.
The Pigeon clan is considered one of the last clans to be formed. Members joined the Eagle clan in providing security for the chiefs.
Considered fierce warriors, Elk clan members were responsible for controlling the sacred fire during war. During peacetime, the clan was responsible for distributing fire through the village and while on hunts.
The 12th clan – Wolf – was responsible for the social well-being of tribal members. The clan handled public safety and health. Members controlled the wind. Wolf members acted as scouts for the tribe. The clan also provided soldiers during battle.
I believe that anytime we can learn more about the people and cultures that make up the United States, the more open and receptive we are to others. The Ho Chunk’s Clans Sculpture Garden and Cultural Plaza helps share the history and culture of the tribe in a small, but important, way.
We recommend visiting the sculpture garden on the Ho Chunk (Winnebago) reservation. For more information on the sculptures and other attractions, please visit www.winnebagotribe.com.