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Citizen Voices Matter: In Western Wisconsin

About Robert Mann

Robert Mann is the Executive Director of Heritage Preservation of the Ho-Chunk Nation. His department of the Tribal government works to research, archive, protect and conserve Tribal historical and cultural information. Mann’s long experience with Tribal leadership includes work as a Veterans Service Officer to honor Tribal members who are veterans or who are currently serving in the U.S. military.

Why Robert is working to improve regulation of frac sand mining in Wisconsin

The Ho-Chunk come from indigenous people called the Hochungra, or “people of the big voice” and a sacred language. And their language has passed their history and culture down from one generation to the next.

“Growing up, I was told by my elders that we had to take care of this land,” said Mann. “It is our belief that the Great Spirit created the Earth and has provided all of the land and water for us. We’re blessed, but it’s our responsibility to teach our children to choose the right path and stay in harmony with nature.”

The Ho-Chunk’s history is one of generations of people gaining and losing ground. Originally from the area near Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Ho-Chunk lived throughout central and western Wisconsin and across the Midwest. Migration of generations of Tribal members was a result of pressure from other Tribes as well as the encroachment of white settlers’ land acquisitions like the Louisiana Purchase and years of fraudulent treaties and removal schemes. It wasn’t until the 1960s when the Evangelical Reformed Church (United Church of Christ) donated property in Black River Falls to the Nation, where their headquarters and government is based.

“Almost all of Wisconsin is our ancestral land,” explains Mann, “although our Nation extends into Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. But this is where we are from, where our ancestors lived and where we live now.”

Unlike other tribes who had established treaty agreements with the United States government to have ceded territory and undivided reservation land, the Ho-Chunk’s lands and people are widely dispersed. But their headquarters in Black River Falls is near some of Wisconsin’s largest deposits of silica sand and when mining companies dig for frac sand, they are removing some of the Ho-Chunk’s legacy.

“In our culture, we call the land our Grandmother,” says Mann. “Sometimes what we call progress abuses her. But in the end, the Earth does not belong to Man: Man belongs to the Earth. And it’s our responsibility to take care of her, to be caretakers of this land.”

As the frac sand mining boom ripples across western Wisconsin, another controversy has seized the northern part of the state. In 2013, Robert joined hundreds of people who waited to testify at the only hearing for a law to exempt iron mining from many of the state’s protections of wetlands and water.

“This land is very important to all of us, not just to Tribal members but to everyone in Wisconsin,” says Mann. “We need to care for our land because what we do today will determine our destiny.”

How you can help

Please share Robert’s story. You can learn more about frac sand mining on our website or visit the Ho-Chunk Nation's website. If you donate to Midwest Environmental Advocate’s legal effort, you will be supporting the work of our attorneys who are helping citizens with impact litigation cases against mining companies that aren’t protecting our air, water and land. We provide technical and legal support that informs permit reviews and future litigation.