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Indigenous Peoples' Day ceremony remembers 'humanity at its best'
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Indigenous Peoples' Day ceremony remembers 'humanity at its best'

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A moment made history nearly 150 years ago with the former Reedsburg Depot, 240 Railroad St., serving as the backdrop to the scene of white settlers pushing back against the forced removal of their Ho-Chunk neighbors.

“I think I would have shed tears of appreciation while watching humanity at its best on that day, the citizens of Sauk County and Reedsburg demonstrating courage, compassion and love for another human being regardless of linguistic differences, skin color or philosophical beliefs,” said Butch Artichoker, a descendant of Aahucoga or Blue Wing, a well-known chief in the area at the time of the event.

Indigenous Peoples' Day of Sauk County 2021

Butch Artichoker, a descendant of Chief Aahucoga, speaks Monday during the celebration of Indigenous Peoples' Day of Sauk County in Reedsburg. The site of the local chamber of commerce and former train depot serves as a historical location for the county, when European settlers of the area pushed back against forced relocation of Ho-Chunk people by federal troops, specifically family members of Aahucoga, who they respected and admired and who had helped them when they first arrived in the region. Artichoker explained that when his father was sent to a boarding school for indigenous children, a white person misspelled his name, which led to jokes about the vegetable throughout his life.

The former depot, first built in 1872 with the current building constructed in 1905, served as the location for the commemoration of the third annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day of Sauk County Monday. An interpretive panel and a memorial bench were unveiled. Both will serve as reminders of the December evening when residents refused the apprehension and forceful removal of Aahucoga’s family members. Aahucoga, or Blue Wing in English, helped white settlers when they first arrived in the region. He was well known and liked by many, Artichoker said.

“The members of this community demonstrating their own higher values and tapping into the souls that the Creator intended for all of us to possess, a beautiful illustration of not letting differences get in the way and the recognition of a kindred spirit,” Artichoker said. “What a tremendous example for a divided nation that we live in today.”

Paul Wolter, executive director of the Sauk County Historical Society, outlined the story of that night. Federal troops were already working to forcefully relocate Ho-Chunk people hundreds of miles away in Nebraska, promising supplies only to leave people stranded in an unknown landscape during the winter months. Many died either during the trip or once they arrived, but others had worked to return to their homeland, often making the trip back to Wisconsin on foot. For 33 years, federal troops worked to remove the Ho-Chunk population from their land, but never fully met their goal.

Then in December 1873, members of Aahucoga’s family were taken away by troops, much to the dismay of white residents. Troops returned to take away more people, which included more family of Aahucoga, but this time people confronted them. When officials wouldn’t make an exemption, residents became “madder and madder,” according to a January 1874 edition of the Reedsburg Free Press.

“On the evening of Dec. 27, Court Commissioner Abner Hunt issued a writ of Habeas Corpus demanding the release of Blue Wing’s family,” Wolter said. “It was presented right here by Deputy Sheriff Daniel Buel to the corporal in charge of the troops. Buel was accompanied by more than 300 residents of the Reedsburg area, and when the request was denied, the crowd prevented the soldiers from taking Blue Wing’s family. Ten members of Blue Wing’s family were protected and several other Ho-Chunk escaped during the confrontation.”

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The event made the then secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior question the relocation policy. In 1874, Charles Hunt suspended the removals. In total, 900 people were forcefully relocated in the final push from Wisconsin to Nebraska. Ho-Chunk is one of 11 federally recognized tribes in the state.

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Descendants of Aahucoga sat on the memorial bench Monday and admired the panel as both items were shown off. Artichoker told stories of his ancestors, like the misspelling of his surname by white people which led to its relation to the vegetable to the tears he fought back when retelling how his father hadn’t heard his native language in 50 years but still remembered it when hearing others speak on the street one day. Heavy rain fell as people approached the podium to speak and members of the Winnebago Sons Drum Group performed songs of honor and friendship.

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Members of the Indigenous Students United Group of Baraboo High School also spoke, excited about being bestowed a plaque honoring the tale of the three sisters, which represent beans, corn and squash. The sisters, though different, are tied together, said Ho-Chunk and Ojibwe artist Chris Sweet.

Officers for the group were surprised with a painting made by Sweet to hopefully be hung in a place of prominence in their school. The group is working to attend the national conference hosted by organization UNITY, United National Indian Tribal Youth, which was one of the aims when it was founded.

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Sauk County Board of Supervisors Chairperson Tim McCumber read from the proclamation passed by supervisors in November 2018 and noted that his own family ties remind him of the sentiment of the day.

“As people, as humans, we’re all integrated and we’re all one,” McCumber said.

The aim of celebrating the day with events, in part, is to take note of different areas of importance throughout the county, Wolter said. The ceremony will be held in the Sauk Prairie area in 2022.

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.

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