Forming common ground; Temporary marker placed at UWSP to recognize Native American burial site
By Kris Leonhardt
STEVENS POINT – A temporary memorial marker was placed on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus, just south of the Dreyfus Center, to recognize the Native American individuals buried there in the late 1800s.
The UWSP campus is situated on Ho-Chunk and Menominee ancestral lands and the burial grounds of many Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi people taken by Scarlet Fever.
Karen Ann Hoffman, Stevens Point, of the Oneida Nation, and archeologist Ray Reser, UWSP professor emeritus, led the efforts to honor the site.
On Dec. 17, a ceremony was held to place the marker with university and tribal representatives attending.
“When I learned about the burial site on our campus grounds, I was at first upset and appalled, but not surprised,” said Iris Carufel, UWSP Native American Center coordinator. “In reference to history, we know that Native American people have been referred to as ‘merciless Indian savages’ in our country’s constitution. The foundation of our country has regarded Native Americans as sub-human. So, when I say that I am not surprised, I mean that I am not surprised.
“The UW-Stevens Point administration taking this step of acknowledging that the foundation of our institution is built on a burial site is only one step in the right direction. It is my hope that this valued step propels every university department to further their commitment to Native American students and all students who have been historically marginalized.
“An aboriginal leader from Canada once said, ‘Where common memory is lacking; where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.’
“UWSP is on the cusp of creating common memory with the sovereign nations it is surrounded by in this great state of Wisconsin. Identifying and acknowledging the harmful history we all share is important in forming and nurturing this new community. This is where the work begins. It cannot end at this acknowledgement. Formal relationships must be established among our university leadership with each tribal government.”
UWSP Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Al Thompson said that the university was taking a first step to building that commonality.
“I think it is important to recognize that we have come a long way; that we have reached a moment of a new chapter with our Native friends and families. Building a relationship that is not just this marker behind us, but that we are going to go further; and, to go further means deeper discussions on how we build long-lasting relationships on this beautiful campus that is now being recognized as a place where folks before, many years ago, were left behind,” Thompson said.
Brooks Boyd, Forest County Potawatomi Executive Council member, expressed the importance of getting those tribes tied to the burial grounds involved.
“We all know this is very important. If we want to have something done the correct way, we have to have the right people at the table that know best about this,” he said.
“This is a very big deal. This is something that is long overdue, and I know that these spirits are feeling good about that. I know that they are here and that there are a lot of good feelings here. They know that everybody that is involved has a big purpose, has a big part in making this happen.”
David Grignon, of the Menominee Historic Preservation Department and state of Wisconsin Burial Site Preservation Board, expressed the commonality, not just regarding the land, but today’s environment, as well.
“Those burials, they said there were three maybe four tribes, but this area is ancestral territory of the Menominee people,” Grignon said.
“How these people died; how our ancestors died is something we are living through now. Scarlet Fever, they died from that. I just couldn’t imagine; they just buried them in a common grave. They didn’t have the ceremonies that are supposed to go along with that traditionally, when our people die. A four-day ceremony, I don’t think they had that ceremony. I don’t think they had the send-off prayers that go with that; I don’t think they had the feasts that go with that.
“The burial ground itself was desecrated by having a garbage dump, garbage threw on them. That is a horrific thing to do to a burial.
“It’s good that this information came forward at this time that our people are here. At some point, I hope that the community does a ghost supper for them…”
The university’s new School of Humanities and Global Studies is working with tribes, as well as university staff and students, to install a permanent exhibit in UW-Stevens Point’s Museum of Natural History, tentatively scheduled to open in 2023.