The Ho-Chunk Nation and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire will collaborate to promote learning about the tribe’s language and culture on campus.
The Nation last month became the first Native American tribe in the state to sign a collaborative agreement with a University of Wisconsin System institution.
The move is hailed by officials as a milestone that will serve native and non-native students alike.
“I think it’s a really promising step,” said Ho-Chunk Nation executive director of education Adrienne Thunder.
“I think it’s an innovative thing, and I applaud both parties for taking this monumental step forward together.”
The Nation and UW-EC now will work together on several collaborative activities but the main focus currently is to develop a “living-learning” community at The Priory — a former monastery property recently obtained by the university. Living-learning communities are residence halls for students that have academic and career support programs in-house.
The proposed community at The Priory will provide a center for Ho-Chunk language and culture and the academic, social and career support for Ho-Chunk Nation members and other students who attend the university, said UW-EC dean emerita Katherine Rhoades.
The university now has a small number of Ho-Chunk students, but Rhoades said the university hopes the new focus on Ho-Chunk language and culture will be a draw for those interested in pursuing higher education.
Research also shows the support of living-learning communities helps retention of first-generation college students and those in “historically marginalized groups.”
“I think our vision is to make sure that we honor this wonderful partnership we’ve been able to forge with the Ho-Chunk Nation,” Rhoades said. “Ultimately, this could be an indigenous center that would include anyone who is interested in American Indian history and language and culture.
“That would include (non-native students) — it would include students from other (Native American) nations in the state who attend. It’s not meant to be exclusive.”
Thunder said the Nation is excited to help integrate Ho-Chunk programming into the campus setting, including meetings with elders and clan leaders for cultural advice.
She said she hopes the living-learning community will provide a welcoming space for Nation members who attend the college in addition to a way for non-native students to learn about the impact the Nation and other tribes have on communities and state.
“I think it’s pretty neat and I think it’s an opportunity for dual learning,” said Thunder, who holds a bachelor’s degree from UW-EC and a master’s degree from UW-Madison. “It’s really important for us and our neighbors to see what impact we have in the area in which we’re located.
“It’s an opportunity for not only our students to understand our current situation, but also for non-native students especially — it’s important for them to know the impact our tribal communities play.”
Rhoades said officials are moving ahead with plans for the living-learning community, which could be functioning in a pilot-program capacity for the fall 2014 semester.
“It has been an accelerated journey of understanding and work on behalf of our future generations,” she said.
“I think we’re all deeply excited about it.”