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Isthmus shares thoughts of UW-Madison’s Bird Bear, Poler on ‘Our Shared Future’

September 06, 2019

The Sept. 5 cover story in the Isthmus newspaper shares the expertise and thoughts of UW-Madison’s Aaron Bird Bear and Omar Poler in a report headlined, “This land is their land: UW-Madison grapples with Wisconsin’s ugly treatment of the Ho-Chunk.” 

Before 1828, Observatory Hill was home to a village called Wakandjaga, or "Thunder Bird,” which extended from the base of the hill to the head of Picnic Point. These histories, documented by Charles E. Brown, the founder of the Wisconsin Archaelogical Society, only scratch the surface to the history of humanity in Taychopera, the "Land of the Four Lakes," Bird Bear explains to the Isthmus. 

Aaron Bird Bear
Bird Bear
Bird Bear, assistant dean for student diversity programs in the School of Education, tells Isthmus that these massive cultural archaeological expressions dating over 1,000 years ago define Madison. He says, “It’s amazing that our public doesn’t understand or even know about how special this place has been to humans for long.” 

Isthmus noted that UW-Madison hopes to address this significance and the history that goes along with the repeated violent and forced removals of the Ho-Chunk Nation from both Madison and Wisconsin. Beginning with a plaque dedication on June 18, Our Shared Future is a way for the university to move towards awareness. 

“This is hopefully the opportunity, the spark, to encourage our community to understand the deep human history of this place,” says Poler, a Mole Lake Sokaogon Ojibwe and UW-Madison’s American Indian Curriculum Services Coordinator. “Both the tremendous beauty of this place, the wonders of this place, but also the painful stories of this place that we have long omitted and erased from the stories that we tend to tell about Madison.”

According to Bird Bear, who leads the First Nations Cultural Landscape Tour, UW-Madison’s campus is likely the most archaeologically rich campus in the United States. He tells Isthmus that there used to be 20,000 earthworks or burial mounds in southern Wisconsin alone; only 4,000 remain in the entire state. 

While Wisconsin’s human history goes back thousands of years, Bird Bear — a member of the Mandan, Hidasta, and Arikara Nation — tells Isthmus that only a small fraction of this history is told. He explains that few students know much about Native Americans “because of the settler colonialism education model, which is to negate and obscure the 12,000 years — or probably 15,000 years — of humanity on this continent.” 

Read the entire Isthmus report here

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