FACT SHEET: Ho-Chunk Claim at Badger

Why are the Badger lands important to the Ho-Chunk people?

The lands now occupied by the Badger Army Ammunition Plant (BAAP) have very important historic and cultural significance to the Ho-Chunk people as it lies within the Ho-Chunk’s aboriginal territory and includes a number of historic and pre-historic sites of significance. The transfer of a portion of the BAAP land in trust for the Nation, for restoration as prairie and bison habitat, the preservation of historic and cultural sites, and for hospital and municipal fire protections services, would enable the Nation to further its mission to enhance the quality of life of Nation members and to carry out the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ responsibility to protect and improve the trust of assets of American Indian tribes.

As historians and anthropologists have recognized, the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) people lived in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois long before the arrival of European-Americans. Their aboriginal territory covered several million acres and extended throughout southern Wisconsin, from the eastern banks of the Mississippi River, along the Wisconsin, Black, Rock, Fox and Baraboo Rivers, to Lake Winnebago and Green Bay, including villages located within the present-day Sauk County, and in particular, along the Wisconsin River, near where the Badger Army Ammunition Plant is currently located. For information search in the local library or at the State Historical Society for the Treaties of 1829, 1832 and 1837 between the United States Government and Wisconsin Winnebago.

The land comprising the BAAP clearly lies within the territory that the United States recognized historically held by the Nation. Further, based on a preliminary cultural resource survey conducted by GEO-Marine, a contractor for the United States Army, it appears that the land comprising the BAAP contains at least seventeen potential historic sites, one possible prehistoric site, and at least one or more possible mound groups. There is reason to believe that these lands contain remnants of tribal campsites, villages, mounds and other earthen works. The survey is only a preliminary one and was conducted very recently. The potential historic, prehistoric, and cultural sites within the property have yet to be examined and evaluated by the Nation, the Wisconsin State Historical Society (WSHS) or other agencies and organizations have an interest in the protection and preservation of such sites. A search of the WSHS records reveals 837 effigy and burial mounds were and are located in Sauk County. The BAAP lands are documented as having a high volume of native activity.

Moreover, the Nation wants to ensure that these sites will be preserved and protected for future generations of Nation’s youth. The preservation of these sites will be an important tool in the education of children, particularly Indian children, about their rich culture and heritage. Acquisition of this property in trust for the benefit of the Ho-Chunk Nation would provide, promote and enhance the Ho-Chunk Nation’s programs for historic and cultural resource enhancement, education, employment, and economic development.

How much land has the Nation requested?

The Nation’s primary request is for a transfer of 3050 acres of the BAAP lands suitable for restoration of bison, as this would improve the Nation’s current bison restoration project while promoting tribal culture, spiritual revitalization, personal health, and ecological restoration. The Nation’s second priority for BAAP is prairie restoration and protection and of the cultural, historic, and archeological resources that have been located on the property. The Nation’s third priority is in acquisition of two buildings within the BAAP facility including the existing medical clinic building and adjacent office building for use in support of the bison and prairie restoration efforts. Acquiring along with these facilities would be the associated and necessary easements and existing infrastructure.

Why is the Bison Project important?

It is the Ho-Chunk Nation’s goal to improve Natural Resources, the Nations’ Bison Herd, and other Rights Protection Programs. The Nation has an ISDA (Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act) grant and contract for prairie restoration and bison programs through the Department of the Interior under Public Law 93-638. Under this public law, Indian tribes assume the responsibility for federal programs within the various federal agencies. The Nation is committed to protect and enhance the natural resources on its lands. Significant portions of the BAAP land are not only suitable for, but would be greatly benefited by a prairie restoration project similar to the one that the Nation has undertaken near Muscoda, which is also near to the BAAP land. The BAAP facility is located on lands that historically were prairies and woodlands. Since the 1960’s, portions of the BAAP land have been the subject of wildlife restoration projects undertaken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in conjunction with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and various volunteer organizations. The work has included the planting of prairie grasses, as well as, trees and shrubs to enhance wildlife habitat and food sources and has occurred in a 1,200 acre site in the northeast portion of the property, as well as, an additional 169 acres along Highway 12. The Nation would continue and expand those efforts.

The Army also currently leases approximately 2,800 acres to private farmers for grazing and for crops. The Nation would consider continuing this practice, with rotational grazing and the development of an agricultural plan to benefit local farmers willing to grow cash crops and feed crops for the bison herd. In addition, as the Nation has done in managing its existing bison herd, the Nation will take the steps necessary to prevent transmittal of disease
between bison and cattle through vaccination of the bison herd as well as control over the places where the herd is permitted to graze to prevent such problems from arising.

Bison are essential to the revitalization of Nation’s traditional practices and culture. Bison are consistent with the prairie restoration wanted by the area people. It does not conflict with, but complements the land use practices of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at nearby Devil’s Lake State Park. It is also conducive to the reintroduction of other native species such as the greater prairie chicken, elk and native grasses and plants. The Nation will also coordinate its land use plans for the property with the current and nearby land users.

Will there be adverse effects on state or local tax rolls?

Acquisition of the land for the benefit of the Nation will not have any adverse impact on the state or local tax rolls as the land is currently, and has been, exempt from state and local property taxes since at least 1942 when BAAP was established.

Under what legal authority is this land requested?

The legal authority for the acquisition is in accordance with Section 105(f)(3) of Pub.L. 93-638, the Indian Self Determination Act (ISDA), as amended (Pub.L. 101-644 and 103-413) which states “the appropriate Secretary may … acquire excess or surplus Government personal or real property for donation to an Indian tribe or tribal organization if the Secretary determines the property is appropriate for use by the tribe or tribal organization for a purpose of which a self-determination contract or grant agreement is authorized under this Act” and the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act.

Also, federally recognized Indian tribes possess certain inherent rights of self-government and are entitled to certain federal benefits, services, and protection because of the special trust relationship through Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States.

Will there be public access to lands the Ho-Chunk may acquire?

It is the Nation’s intent to permit public access to the undeveloped portions of the land and restored prairie areas where such access would not threaten the integrity of a cultural site or cultural resource.

In the future, could the Nation use these lands for something else?

No, the Nation would not be able to alter the uses. The federal statutes governing the disposal, use and reuse of excess federal lands for federal agency to agency transfer imposes a use restriction. Under such conveyances, the Nation is bound by the uses proscribed in their request to transfer the lands to the Department of the Interior. So, because the Nation has stated that the land is to be preserved for historical and cultural purposes, restoration etc., that Nation could not then change the intended purpose to a use contrary to the original request and justification. The only exceptions to this rule are the use of excess federal property for education and health. Educational and health conveyances and uses proscribe a 30-year use period, after which the existing use of the property may be altered.

Sources for this Fact Sheet: Ho-Chunk Nation Department of Justice, Ho-Chunk Nation’s Revised Request for Transfer of Surplus Real Property and Statement of Land Use Plan for a portion of the Badger Army Ammunition Plant, May 1998

© CSWAB, 1999.

Voices for CSWAB

“I am involved with CSWAB in support of their super efforts to hold government agencies responsible for keeping our water, air, and lands safe and keeping those who have contaminated these resources from just walking away.”

J. Gilbert Sanchez
Director, Tribal Environmental Watch

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