Professor says 1829 census shows Ho-Chunk ties to Beloit area

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Sunday, April 1, 2012
— Ancestors of the Ho-Chunk Nation could have built some of the ancient Indian mounds that dot the Beloit College campus and nearby locations.

“We’ll probably never be 100 percent certain, but there is good reason to believe that the ancestors of the Ho-Chunk lived in this area and built mounds,” said Professor Bill Green, director of the Logan Museum of Anthropology at Beloit College. “Whether they built these particular mounds, we can’t be certain.”

The Ho-Chunk’s historical connection to the land around Beloit is one of many factors the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs will consider in the Ho-Chunk’s application to put land in Beloit into federal trust for a casino complex.

Last month’s approvals of an intergovernmental agreement between Beloit, Rock County and the nation paves the way for the next step: federal review of an application to take the 32-acre parcel off the tax rolls and put it into federal trust for a casino.

The nation is proposing to build a 145,000-square-foot gaming facility, which also would include a 300-room hotel and a 35,000-square-foot convention center just off of Interstate 90/39.

Historical connection

Beth Jacobsen, assistant to the Beloit city manager, said the nation’s historical connection to the Beloit area would be “an important piece” in the Bureau of Indian Affairs deliberations.

“It’s my perception that it’s important,” Jacobsen said. “There has to be some tie to the area.”

Jon Greendeer, president of the Ho-Chunk Nation, said he’s not sure how much weight the Bureau of Indian Affairs will give the Ho-Chunks historical connection to the area.

It will be among factors that include an environmental impact statement, local support and the structure of the intergovernmental agreement.

“The nation has a lot of packets that are out there that are off reservation ... but it (the Beloit application) is new in the sense that it is a gaming parcel, and gaming parcels do have different requisites for approval,” Greendeer said.

Researchers have documented several Ho-Chunk village sites and smaller habitations in Beloit in the 1820s and 1830s, though they probably occupied sites even older than that, Green said.

The largest of the documented Rock River Indian villages of the Ho-Chunk was at the mouth of Turtle Creek as it flows into the Rock River near the stateline, he said. The village numbered about 600 people from 1829-30, when a “very good” census was commissioned, he said.

Other major villages before and after the census dotted the Lake Koshkonong shoreline, the Madison area and farther south along the Rock River, he said.

The Sauk and Fox named the Ho-Chunk the Winnebago, which was the name the U.S. government took for the Ho-Chunk people, according to the nation. They remained the Winnebago until the Constitution Reform in 1993, when the Ho-Chunk reclaimed their original name, according to the nation.

Between the census and oral history, researchers have a well-documented history of the villages in the early 1800s, Green said. Before that, it’s not quite as clear who was here at various times or how many people, but he said it’s likely the Ho-Chunk ancestors were living here for hundreds of years prior.

The 20 preserved mounds on the Beloit College campus feature conical, linear and animal effigy mounds built between 400 and 1200, according to the college. Similar mounds are scattered around the city, with the other best ones in Totem Park.

Mounds built in the Midwest generally served as burial sites, and human remains have been found in many mounds, including the college mounds, according to the college.

Fee to trust land

While the nation has historical ties to the Beloit land, it needs to apply to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for a permit to put the land proposed for the off-reservation gaming facility into federal trust for the purposes of gaming.

Trust land is different than fee or real land, which includes regular parcels that are purchased, taxed and governed by zoning laws and other ordinances.

Many Native American tribes own property and have other business operations on regular fee property, Beloit City Manager Larry Arft has explained at recent meetings. Tribes have the right to put land into trust, and they can apply to the federal government for trust status for reasons such as tribal member housing, he said.

The Ho-Chunk bought the 32-acre parcel in Beloit for the casino development. If the nation’s application is approved, the federal government would put the parcel into trust. The property would be off the tax rolls and—aside from exceptions dictated in the intergovernmental agreement—would be under the Ho-Chunk nation’s laws.

An intergovernmental agreement is negotiated between a sovereign tribal nation seeking to build an off-reservation casino and the host community, in this case Beloit and Rock County, Arft has explained.

The agreement addresses many issues, including how the municipalities would make up the loss of property taxes and which local ordinances would apply to the property.

In lieu of property taxes, the agreement states, the nation would make impact payments of 2 percent of the casino’s net wins to Beloit. Of that share, the city would pay 30 percent to Rock County.

Arft has conservatively estimated the 2 percent payment at $5 million to $7 million. Of that, the county would receive 30 percent, or $1.5 million to $2.1 million.

In lieu of a room tax, the agreement also calls for a room payment in lieu of taxes, which would be paid to the city and Beloit Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The nation also has agreed to make a $2 million down payment to the city to be spent on infrastructure to get the casino ready to open.

If the nation acquired property near the development, the property would remain fee property, according to the agreement. If the nation wanted to submit an application to put more land into trust, the agreement states the parties would negotiate an amendment to make sure the city and county are compensated for taking more land out of fee status, Arft said at a recent county meeting.

The nation’s application first will go to a Bureau of Indian Affairs regional office in Minnesota, then to Washington, D.C. The process typically takes about two years.

If approved in Washington, Wisconsin’s governor would have final authority over the application.

Last updated: 8:14 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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