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The Short Story: Resettling Refugees

Esther Seidlitz
November 04, 2021
Boxes of clothing and hygiene items stored in Fort McCoy

The Our Shared Future plaque on Bascom Hill honors the history and presence of the Ho-Chunk people and reminds us that UW–Madison is built on ancestral Ho-Chunk lands. Part of the Our Shared Future initiative is acknowledging the hard truths of the UW’s shared history with the Ho-Chunk Nation, but it also calls us to a stronger partnership, now and in the future. The UW is proud to work with Ho-Chunk alumni, including these prominent legal scholars who use their education, expertise, and personal experiences to help improve the university for everyone.

With this same mind-set, the Ho-Chunk Nation is sponsoring donation drives and education efforts to welcome another displaced group into this shared future: Afghan refugees. As Ryan Greendeer, public relations officer for the Ho-Chunk Nation’s legislative body, explains, “Having different pieces integrated into a warm welcome, making sure that they are being taken care of — that’s the Ho-Chunk way.”

Since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, nearly 13,000 people have arrived at Fort McCoy, one of eight military bases across the country housing, processing, and transitioning Afghan refugees to their new lives. Fort McCoy is situated outside of Tomah, Wisconsin, another region of the state which was traditionally held by the Ho-Chunk, and only 30 miles southwest of the Ho-Chunk Nation’s seat of government in Black River Falls. Once Greendeer knew refugees were slated to arrive at Fort McCoy, he mobilized the Ho-Chunk government to offer whatever aid it could. The Ho-Chunk Nation worked primarily with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families to collect, sort, and deliver more than a dozen truckloads of clothing and hygiene items to Fort McCoy.

To help Afghan refugees navigate the immigration process, Erin Barbato ’02, director of UW Law School’s Immigrant Justice Clinic, and UW Law students will also be providing legal aid at Fort McCoy. Greendeer encourages people across the state to educate themselves to prevent any anti-Afghan or anti-immigration sentiments from setting in. “That’s not what America was raised on, especially for the tribal nations. … We welcomed people, people that were good to us. We welcomed them.”

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