From left: Jason Hulit, Aaron LaPointe and Jeffery Thomas Jr. of Ho-Chunk Farms, an agricultural business owned by Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development corporation of the Winnebago Tribe. Photo courtesy Ho-Chunk Farms

'It's a pretty monumental step': Tribal farm reclaims land on Winnebago Reservation

It wasn’t always this way.

Once the Ho-Chunk people had vast lands upon which they planted corn, beans and squash and hunted deer and buffalo. But to make way for westward moving settlers, the government forcibly removed them from their homes in Wisconsin and relocated them in northeast Nebraska.

Life in Nebraska for the Ho-Chunk, now federally recognized as the Winnebago Tribe, has been a mixed bag.

The Dawes Act of 1887 divided the tribe’s lands into individual allotments, and most of the tribe’s members sold their land to non-Native settlers. By the 1900s, the Winnebago Tribe owned just one-third of its reservation lands.

But the tribe has slowly begun retaking the lands it lost.

Indianz.Com Video by Kevin Abourezk: Tribal Harvest Returns to Tradition #WinnebagoHomelands

Recently, a company owned by the tribe, Ho-Chunk Farms, purchased 231 acres from a non-Native landowner for $1.3 million and plans to farm the land.

“It’s a pretty monumental step for Ho-Chunk Farms and for the Winnebago Tribe,” said Aaron LaPointe, manager of Ho-Chunk Farms. “I’m hoping it will open up more opportunities.”

Currently, just 25 percent of farmable land on the Winnebago Reservation is owned by the tribe or its citizens, LaPointe said.

In addition to the Ho-Chunk Farms purchase, the Winnebago Tribe is currently considering buying many more acres of farmland, he said.

“This signals the tribe and tribal entities are in the business of buying land,” LaPointe said.

Aaron LaPointe serves as business manager for Ho-Chunk Farms, the Winnebago Tribe's agricultural arm. He is seen at the grand opening of the Village Market at Ho-Chunk Village on the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska on August 24, 2019. Photo: Ho-Chunk Village Farmers Market

This spring, Ho-Chunk Farms will plant an additional 5,000 acres of leased farmland on the Winnebago Reservation. The company – a subsidiary of Ho-Chunk, Inc., the tribe's economic development corporation – will also purchase farm equipment to expand its machinery line. The goal is to increase tribal employment in farming and reduce contracted work.

Ho-Chunk Farms started in 2012. In that time, it’s changed the dynamics of reservation farming and increased agricultural land values for the Winnebago Tribe.

The company will plant 440 acres of USDA Certified Organic crops this spring, including 270 newly certified acres. The company is currently transitioning 591 acres to certified organic, an increase of 340 acres from last year.

Ho-Chunk Farms’ direct investment in the Winnebago community is facilitated by revenue from organic and commodity crops.

Ho-Chunk Farms, the Winnebago Tribe and community partners are promoting food sovereignty with a number of projects, including traditional Indian corn, raised bed vegetable gardens and a new summer farmers' market building in the Ho-Chunk Village.

And last summer, the tribe became among the first in the nation to start planting hemp after receiving a state license to do so.

Ho-Chunk Farms was one of just 10 applicants granted a Nebraska license to grow hemp last year out of 176 applications received by the state. Ho-Chunk Farms planted just 5.5 acres of hemp last year.

LaPointe said his company learned a lot about the challenges of growing hemp outdoors after struggling to prevent cross-pollination with wild hemp. Ho-Chunk Farms plans to create a separate subsidiary to handle its hemp production and also plans to develop a regulatory system that would allow it to license local hemp producers, LaPointe said.

“It was a good project for 2019,” he said. “We learned a lot about the crop.”

Indianz.Com Video by Kevin Abourezk: Ho-Chunk Inc. Executive Talks About Growth on #WinnebagoHomelands

The company expects to farm hemp indoors next year, LaPointe said.

He said the agriculture industry faces many challenges right now, including depressed commodity prices and growing reluctance among young people to become farmers. The average age of an American farmer is 58, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Those challenges present opportunities for agricultural corporations like Ho-Chunk Farms, LaPointe said.

“It’s a big opportunity for Ho-Chunk and the Winnebago Tribe,” he said.

Ho-Chunk Inc. owns and operates Indianz.Com. The website is not involved with the corporation's activities or with Ho-Chunk Farms.

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Winnebago Tribe celebrates opening of farmers market on reservation (August 30, 2019)
Tribally-owned housing company continues to expand operations (July 23, 2019)
Winnebago Tribe among the first to enter industrial hemp industry (July 22, 2019)
Winnebago Tribe incorporates language into billboards and public signs on reservation (March 8, 2019)
Winnebago Tribe moves forward with major community expansion plans (March 1, 2019)
Winnebago Tribe explores new frontiers as opportunities grow on homelands (February 18, 2019)
Winnebago Tribe still fighting back a year after raid on reservation (February 4, 2019)
Winnebago Tribe continues to see more return to homelands (January 16, 2019)
Winnebago Tribe wins round in lawsuit to defend its sovereignty (December 19, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe defends sovereignty in dispute with state officials (December 11, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe doubles investment in solar energy on reservation (September 24, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe turns to tradition with annual corn harvest (August 29, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe moves forward with food sovereignty initiatives (August 8, 2018)
'It’s been very healing': Yoga classes come to Winnebago Reservation (July 27, 2018)
Winnebago artist Henry Payer taps into tribal history (July 5, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe set to assume control of troubled hospital on reservation (June 27, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe brings gardens to youth on the reservation (May 30, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe works to revitalize Ho-Chunk language for future generations (May 10, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe names executives for takeover of troubled Indian Health Service hospital (May 1, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe takes advantage of new 'Opportunity Zone' designation (April 27, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe fights back in court after 'attack on sovereignty' (April 24, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe promotes food sovereignty for future generations (March 30, 2018)
Advertisement
Tags
Trending in News
More Headlines