“Mapping Dejope” project seeks to bring indigenous history at UW to the forefront

MADISON, Wis. – A new project led by professors at the University of Wisconsin plans to take student learning outside of the classroom by making the campus’ native history available digitally. 

The project called “Mapping Dejope”, after the name given to the Madison area by the Ho-chunk people to mean four lakes, will highlight sites on the UW campus especially linked to indigenous history via an app or website. 

It’s an effort proposed by UW Assistant professor Kasey Keller from the university’s School of Human and American Indian Studies Program to make over 10 thousand years of history more accessible. 

“It’s about visibility and the more we can do the better,” Keller said. “It’s also the right thing to do.” 

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The UW-Madison Campus and Arboretum are home to dozens of archaeological sites linked to Indigenous cultures, like the mounds on Observatory drive which will be featured on the app. 

“That area is home to some mounds that most folks on campus have heard about or at least seen or walked over,” said Keeler. “Some of them are for more religious or spiritual reasons, some folks use mounds for burial purposes.”

The app will also challenge the University’s violent and exploitative history with native groups and the reputation of well known historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, his statue prominently placed on the Bascom Hill, by focusing on lesser known history.

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According to Keeler, Lincoln is a troublesome figure for a lot of members of the native community; she said in 1862 Lincoln was responsible for the largest mass execution in the history of the United States, signing off on the hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota. 

“Mapping Dejope” will also include a storytelling element utilizing local native voices and compensating them through funding from the University’s Baldwin Grant, something Keller said was crucial to the project. 

“There’s a long history of extractivism in academia in particular and an assumption that native people are just there to share knowledge and time when we wouldn’t expect that from other community members,” she said. “We should recognize their contributions and pay them accordingly.”

In the last few years the University has made several efforts to bring native history and culture to the forefront including a land acknowledgement, hiring new native staff, and programming on campus around land dispossession and the forced removal of the Ho-Chunk people.

Keeler said she has seen the school change for the better and feels like there’s been really good momentum towards improving relationships with the native community but there’s still room to grow. 

She gave the example of Ho-Chunk Plaza at Camp Randall offering more visibility for the nation but at the price of two million dollars for naming rights.

”It poses political conundrums right? When you’re asking indigenous peoples who have been disposed of their homelands overtime and contemporarily to then pay to access their homelands,” she said. “Just something that’s important to have a dialogue about.” 

“Mapping Dejope” is still in its early stages but professors have secured a grant from the School of Human Ecology’s Indigenous Eco Initiative for campus cartographers and student researchers to put together an initial design this summer.

It will be considered a “living map” also giving attention to indigenous spaces and art on the UW Campus, like the Bronze Badger statue across Camp Randall by Ho-Chunk artist Harry Whitehorse, the American Indian Student Cultural Center, and many others.