For the past four years, Marlon WhiteEagle has been president of the Ho-Chunk Nation, a federally recognized tribe based in Black River Falls. WhiteEagle was first elected on June 4, 2019, running on a platform of accountability and transparency. He’s looking to keep his job for at least four more years.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to represent the Ho-Chunk people and keep going with some of the things we’ve been working on. I think the one big thing I will provide is continuity and consistency,” WhiteEagle tells Madison365. “I’ve really learned a lot about this role as president over the last four years.
“For me, I have really been ingrained in our culture during my lifetime, as well as our community — our multiple communities — based on my family, my dad, my grandfather … they were spiritual leaders,” he adds.
His parents are the late Morgan and Marie (Whitebear) White Eagle of Baraboo, Wisconsin. WhiteEagle’s paternal grandparents are Floyd and Sarah (Snake) White Eagle, while his maternal grandparents are Joseph and Norma (Hall) Whitebear.
“My grandfather was really instrumental in the governmental organization side of things, too. So knowing how they were and how they were received by people, I felt like I had a good base of reliability to Ho-Chunk culture and practices,” says WhiteEagle, who is also a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.
General primary elections are set for Tuesday, March 7. The main elections will be on June 6.
WhiteEagles says for his second term, he is looking to promote the ‘4 E’s’ principles for the success of the Ho-Chunk Nation — to encourage, educate, empower, and endure. “This has been what I’ve based my campaign on. This is how the Ho-Chunk Nation will ultimately succeed by encouraging one another, having the educational component of understanding who we are, empowering each other to achieve what we set out to achieve and then enduring through the struggle as we achieve what we want to achieve.”
The Ho-Chunk Nation, like many tribal nations across North America, endured a rough pandemic financially. Their casinos were closed for several months when the pandemic started and then reopened with a limited capacity with social distancing requirements that really put a dent in their gaming revenue.
“We’ve faced a lot of challenges these past few years. The pandemic was a big one. I feel like we met that pretty well,” WhiteEagle says. “And you know for the first time we had to close our casino doors for public safety purposes. We try to not be a part of spreading COVID. I think that was one of the big obstacles of the last few years.
“Through the obstacles, it gave us the opportunity to go to each of the gaming sites, as well as each of the communities, to learn more about it — where things closed down and didn’t fully close down during the pandemic — and it gave us a really good perspective,” WhiteEagles adds. “We got to do a deep dive into the different areas and the different facilities that the Ho-Chunk nation holds and operates.”
There were ups and downs throughout WhiteEagle’s presidential term. He filed a lawsuit in tribal court in 2020 against the tribe’s legislative branch to prohibit its officials from making budget decisions. A year later, WhiteEagle was under fire due to an effort to try and remove him as president.
“I think one of the challenges in the future, overall, is just the nature of politics, but then you add tribal politics on top of there, and it can get pretty messy,” he says. “I think that’s one of the biggest obstacles moving forward.”
The government of the Ho-Chunk Nation, one of Wisconsin’s 11 federally recognized tribes. is comprised of four branches of government; executive, legislative, judicial and general council. This government was set up to provide a communication tool to deal with federal, state and local governments and is based on the constitutions of 1963 and 1994.
“We are a sovereign nation and that can be a double-edged sword. We can create as many laws as we want, but then we have to abide by those laws. I think that the nature of the Ho-Chunk Nation is that change can happen very quickly. But it can also happen very slowly,” WhiteEagle says. “And it’s a matter of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and not letting little distractions get in the way of some type of progress, and that’s one of the biggest obstacles in the tribal government setting – sovereignty is a delicate thing.”
Prior to becoming president in 2019, WhiteEagle, who earned a liberal arts degree from MiraCosta College, was editor of the Ho-Chunk Nation’s newspaper, Hocak Worak, which covers all the news and happenings of the Ho-Chunk Nation, developments within the government, and personal interest stories. During his time there, he earned national awards for his photography, reporting, and editorials.
“Through that position as editor, I met a lot of people and attended a lot of meetings and I read a lot of our laws and read a lot about the government and what it does and what it tries to achieve,” WhiteEagles says. “So I think that was kind of a proving ground for how the Ho-Chunk Nation should be presented.”
As a journalist, WhiteEagle learned about the importance of communication and information sharing, two things he believes help make him a good president. He has initiated YouTube video messages to share information with tribal members and hosts a podcast, “Ho-Chunk Voice: Discussions with Marlon WhiteEagle.” He has partnered with Cisco WebEx to increase virtual participation in governmental meetings and engagements.
“I think that communication is very important as president as is the sharing of information,” WhiteEagle says. “In the last year or so I’ve been doing listening sessions where I really just listen to people. Through the pandemic, we partnered with WebEx and we have that WebEx capability to virtually tie our people together to increase attendance via information-sharing via the Internet. I think we’ve been doing a great thing in regards to that, as well as in regard to using grant dollars to increase our broadband capabilities. Increasing information sharing to tribal members. I think that’s been one of my big accomplishments.”
For more information on Marlon WhiteEagle’s campaign for Ho-Chunk president, click here.