Ho-Chunk Nation: Portrait of a People

Ho-Chunk Nation: Portrait of a People


The people of the Ho-Chunk Nation, like those of Indian nations all over today’s United States, surmounted considerable hardships in the 19th century to emerge damaged but still viable in the 20th century. An overview of their odyssey may be found in People of the Big Voice: Photographs of Ho-Chunk Families by Charles Van Schaick, 1879–1942, which depicts the struggle in detail, in both words and pictures.

The title says it all: For 63 years, the studio photographer Charles Van Schaick of Black River Falls, Wisconsin, set out to document the lives and relationships of the Ho-Chunk. These images have finally been released as a coffee-table book by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press; the volume recently won a well-deserved USA Books best photography award. Stunning enough though they are, the photos are complemented perfectly by essays from such Ho-Chunk members as Tom Jones, Amy Lonetree and George A. Greendeer.

Reflections include Lonetree recounting “meeting” her Ho-Chunk ancestors in the family photographs taken by Van Schaick and photographer Jones looking through his own lens at Van Schaick’s photos. Delving into the backstory of Van Schaick’s work and long career in documenting his community, the book also features maps showing the various movements of the Ho-Chunk during years of removal and reinstitution. Ultimately what is illustrated is the nation’s perseverance and beauty.

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