Winnebago Tribe Of Nebraska At the time of first contact with Europeans in 1634, the Winnebago tribe inhabited Red Banks, the South Shore of what is now Green Bay, Wisconsin (Radin 1990). Although it appears that the tribe migrated into the area during the second of four Siouan migrations from the East, the tribe has no migration stories. The Winnebago tribe asserts that their people originated at Green Bay. All other locations mentioned within the tribe’s creation stories are also located in modern day Wisconsin. The tribe is thought to have migrated to the area along with the Iowa, Oto, and Missouri tribes.
Sometime after the 16th century, they were isolated from other Siouan groups and formed their own distinct way of life. As is common throughout Native American history, the name given to the Winnebago by Europeans is the name used through another tribe of people when referring to them. “Winnebago” is not what the tribe initially called themselves, but what their neighbors, the Algonquin peoples and the tribe’s geographical neighbors, called them. Many similarities exist between the two groups as a result of their close proximity. Prior to contact, the Winnebago’s called themselves “Hotcangara,” which has been interpreted to mean “big fish people” by tribal observers.
The Winnebago tribe, and their geographical area are associated with numerous effigy earth mounds. During anthropologist’s first attempts to interpret the mounds in the 19th century, the earthen mounds were thought to be antiquarian. After speaking with tribal members, however, researchers found that many of the tribal elders remembered when some of the mounds were erected. The mounds themselves were built as an effigy to the particular clan’s animal, and it appears that the mounds were essentially property markers that were erected near clan habitations and plantations. Similar effigies are also seen in porcupine quillwork, on war bundles, and on woven bags still used by the tribe today. The Winnebago speak a Siouan dialect called Chiwere (Sultzman). With the exception of the Dakota Sioux who were originally located at the western edge of Lake Superior, the Winnebago were the only Siouan speaking tribe of the Great Lakes. Their language is nearly identical to that of the Iowa, Oto, and Missouri. These tribes acknowledge that they separated from the Winnebago not long before the tribe’s first contact with Europeans.
Despite the fact that the Siouan language family is named after the Sioux tribes, Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota, the Winnebago are probably a more important branch of that particular language family. This is because it is closer in relation to the Dhegiha dialect of the Osage, Quapaw, Omaha, Kansa, and Ponca, many of whom refer to the Winnebago as grandfathers or elder brothers. Prior to contact, the Winnebago resembled the Algonquin in many ways. They fished using dugout canoes, and hunted buffalo from the prairies of southern Wisconsin. The Winnebago also gathered a form of wild rice from the nearby lakes during the fall. The tribe supplemented their hunting and gathering with horticultural crops.
In fact, the Winnebago were one of the northernmost horticultural groups in North America. Despite the limited growing season at Red Banks, the Winnebago managed to grow three types of corn in addition to beans, squash, and tobacco. The tribal members used pottery for cooking and food storage, and copper implements created using resources from the south shore of Lake Superior. The Winnebago also resembled the Algonquin in that they were patrilineal with respect to descent and clan membership (Sultzman). This means that clan membership is determined through the father. Clan membership is important because the twelve Winnebago clans served both ceremonial and social functions.
In Winnebago society, the clans were grouped into two major moieties, an Upper Sky group with four clans, and a Lower Earth group consisting of eight other clans. Clan membership was also extremely important among the Winnebago tribe for political reasons. The Winnebago’s Chiefs governed the tribe with the aid of a Tribal Council composed of a principal member of each individual clan. Traditionally, the Thunderbird and Bear clans were the most important groups in Winnebago society because the hereditary Chiefs of the tribe were always chosen from the Thunderbird (Upper) and Bear (Lower) clans (Radin 1945). The Upper Chief of the Thunderbird clan was the tribe’s representative of peace. Despite the tribe’s apparent emphasis on war, the Upper Chief could not go to war, or participate in any of the tribe’s war ceremonies.
He was responsible for pleading for clemency for an accused criminal, and for providing refuge to prisoners in order to maintain their safety. His lodge was a sacred asylum, and no one dared violate it. The Lower Chief’s duties, on the other hand, were a sharp contrast from those of the Upper Chief. He was associated with the policing of the tribe, as well as responsible for disciplinary and war functions. The Lower Chief was charged with inflicting punishment on criminals, housing prisoners, and guarding the village. In addition, he took charge of the tribe when they were on a communal warpath, or hunt.
His lodge is where the sacred war bundles were stored and guarded against contamination. From five years of age, both boys and girls in the Winnebago society were exposed to a series of talks from an older male relative in order to teach them various tribal customs (Radin 1990). This training ended abruptly at puberty when both sexes were sent out to fast. Boys were sent out overnight after their faces were painted with charcoal and instructed not to return until dawn. If they were not blessed, then they were sent out for progressively longer periods of time to fast and pray until they were blessed by the Spirits. This was the only puberty rite for male adolescents. Females, on the other hand, had a different puberty custom. Although also encouraged to fast and become blessed, girls were required to do so while residing in a menstrual lodge. From the onset of menses to menopause, Winnebago women were required to reside in a menstrual lodge for a few days each month over the course of their entire adult lives.
A lodge may contain anywhere from one to three women at any given time, but no reason was given as to why a limit of three women was placed on each lodge. Women were required to retire to the lodge because it was believed by the Winnebago that if a menstruating woman were to come into contact with sacred objects, the object would lose it’s power. Great care was taken in this society to keep menstruating women away from anything of value, even other tribal member’s food. It was almost as if the menstruating woman was cursed. As soon as a girl returns to her parent’s lodge after her first menses, she is then considered ready for marriage.
Both men and women were married off as soon as they reached the appropriate age, and their spouses were chosen by their parents. No ceremony was involved aside from the exchange of presents. Polygamy was permitted in Winnebago society, but rarely chosen. If a man did choose to take a second wife, it was generally a female relative of his first wife such as a sister or niece. The religion of the Winnebago is difficult to describe.
It appears to have been a close spiritual relationship with perceived supernatural powers (Radin 1990). The Winnebago of the past, and many of today, believe in guardian spirits. They attempted to bring such spirits into close relations with themselves through fasting, prayer, mental concentration, offerings, and sacrifices. In their religion, the concept of evil, death, reincarnation, an afterlife, and the so …