Black Hawk Powwow Grounds, Jackson County, Wisconsin
The Black Hawk Powwow Ground site (Wau-che-raw-was-kaw Allotment, John Big Black Hawk) is a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) of the Ho-Chunk Nation (Ho-Chunk Wazijaci people). The powwow grounds, in Jackson County, Wisconsin, have been used as a ceremonial and social event center, as well as a dance-ring or powwow ground, since at least the late 1800’s and possibly well before. As a center of religious, social and community life for the Ho-Chunk Wazijaci people, the area has been continuously used for the same or similar purposes for more than 100 years. While the physical facilities at the site have changed over the years, the Black hawk Powwow Grounds site is a center place for the Black River Falls Ho-Chunk community and the Ho-Chunk Nation.
The site consists of the original 40-acre federal government allotment granted to Wau-che-raw-was-kaw (John Big Hawk) in 1896, although Ho-Chunk occupancy has been present in the Black River Falls area since at least the 1850s, but was only legally recognized during the 1870-1880s. The establishment of the land claim in 1896 therefore probably represents only the legal recording of a previously established occupation and use of the area by the Ho-Chunk people for an unknown period during the early 19th century. The current 20-acre grounds are used for the annual tribal celebrations (i.e. powwows) on Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays. Today the grounds are primarily open grassland surrounded with trees with a number of permanent and semi-permanent buildings.
As early as 1884 local newspaper clippings (many written or submitted to papers by Ho-Chunk members) record the earliest evidence for powwows held at the Black Hawk Grounds site. These probably do not represent the first occurrences of these powwow events in the area. The cultural concept of the powwow at Black hawk as a “Homecoming Dance” or annual reunion event is particularly relevant given the social and economic conditions faced by the Ho-Chunk people during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, due to their refusal to cooperate with Federal government efforts to forcibly remove them from their homelands in Wisconsin in the early and mid 19th century, the Ho-Chunk were denied a contiguous reservation in Wisconsin. Instead the Ho-Chunk congregated in a handful of clustered settlements in Western and Central Wisconsin. The Black Hawk Powwow represented an annual event and congregation that allowed the scattered and segmented Ho-Chunk communities, clans and families from across the state to congregate together for an extended period of visiting and socialization, ceremonial and religious activities, political council and group decision making. Formal delegations from other tribal nations such as the Ojibwa and the Mesquakie were frequently received with ornate ceremonies at the Black Hawk Powwow. Local Euro-American political and community leaders frequently spoke or were frequently received at the Black Hawk Powwow as well. As a tribal “center” place, the Black hawk Powwow Grounds site would have been used by the Black Hawk Ho-Chunk community for more than just the ceremonial, social and political events of the annual powwow ceremony. The site would have been the site of medicine lodge ceremonies, tribal councils, clan festivals and dances and other ceremonial and religious events.
Honoring veterans continue to have an important place in the ceremonies. These sentiments take physical form in the historical marker for Gold Medal (U.S. Medal of Honor) awardee Mitchell Red Cloud and the presence of the Black Hawks VFW Post. Historically significant for its importance in the history of ethnic heritage, (both Native American and religion), the Black Hawk Powwow Grounds were listed in the National Register of Historic Places on March 28, 2007.