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Several dozen people were attending a ceremony at the fire ring outside Dejope residence hall when students in a nearby dorm room interrupted it by shouting stereotypical noises at a Ho-Chunk elder.

Update, 10:32 a.m. March 11: University officials say students with information about the incident should contact UW-Madison housing official Kelly Giese at

A group of people in a UW-Madison dorm room shouted stereotypical “war cry sounds” at a Ho-Chunk elder who had come to the campus for a healing ceremony Wednesday night, according to witnesses and university officials.

UW-Madison has launched an investigation into the incident, which happened during a ceremony at the Dejope residence hall recognizing Native American victims of sexual assault, spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said.

The Ho-Chunk elder had been singing traditional songs as part of the ceremony, which was held at an outdoor fire pit, when attendees said multiple people in a dorm room above them began shouting out of a window, drowning him out.

Emily Nelis, a junior and member of the Native American student organization Wunk Sheek, described the noises as “really stereotypical, like you (hear) when they try to portray Natives in the old western movies.”

“They were basically heckling out of their window,” said Lesley-Anne Pittard, who works at an education policy lab on campus and attended the event with several dozen others. She described the shouts as imitating stereotypical “war cry sounds.”

The ceremony continued, and participants soon notified staff members at Dejope, which takes its name from a Ho-Chunk word for the Madison area.

Officials had not yet identified the people involved in the incident, McGlone said, but believe since they were inside a dorm room that they are likely UW-Madison students. McGlone encouraged anyone with information about the incident to contact the UW Dean of Students office.

The campus’ Hate and Bias Incident Team is planning to send a message to students about the incident soon, McGlone said.

Disruptive and disorderly conduct can result in student discipline, McGlone said, but officials have not decided if the people involved in this incident will face sanctions.

Nelis said she would like to see them disciplined.

“A lot of us were shocked,” said Nelis, a member of the Bad River Ojibwe. “I’m absolutely disgusted with what happened.”

She also hoped it would lead to a broader conversation about the experiences of Native American students at UW-Madison, who number in the dozens on the campus of nearly 30,000 undergraduates.

Students who interrupted Thursday’s University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents meeting in a protest calling for changes to improve the climate for minority students on campuses made note of the incident at Dejope.

“It’s a good time for people in the university to wake up to these issues that are happening to our indigenous students,” Nelis said.

‘It’s a good time for people in the university to wake up to these issues that are happening to our indigenous students.’ Emily Nelis
member of the Native American
student organization Wunk Sheek

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Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.