On a walk around the building mid-September, a curious preschooler in the Bunny class noticed something different hanging from one of the pine trees on Observatory Hill behind Nancy Nicholas Hall. They learned that this tree is known as the Tree of Peace within the Ho Chunk tribe. This sparked a discussion about the history of the Tree of Peace and, of course, Bur Oak. In response to this discussion, teacher Kristin Krystofiak talked with a few parents and lined up a meeting with an academic advisor in the School of Education and a campus leader in the Native American community to talk to the class about the history of the Bur Oak, the Native Americans who inhabited the land, the Tree of Peace, and the cultural significance of the leather pouches.
Aaron Bird Bear sat down with the Bunny Class to explain everything he knew about Bur Oak. Over 150 years ago the hill was covered in Bur Oak trees but most of them needed to be cut down to become farming land, and later part of the UW campus. He also explained how Native Americans used trees as messengers or guides; while Bur Oak was not one of them, many of the trees on Observatory Hill did provide guidance for the Native Americans.
The Tree of Peace was planting in 1988 as a result of conflict over spear fishing rights; they hoped planting the tree would cause people to work together instead of argue. Bird Bear explained that the leather pouches were part of a ceremony by the tribal elder to give the tree instructions and that they held tobacco. The best way for the kids to honor their tree, said Bird Bear, was to create their own leather pouches filled with sage or sweet grass and most importantly, happiness. He encouraged the children to remember that the tree represented peace and the importance of teamwork. One cold afternoon the class hung their pouches from Bur Oak to honor her for her wisdom and thank her for clean air and healing properties.
While their beloved Bur Oak has since been removed from the hill, this passionate group has requested instead to visit the Tree of Peace to share their anger or sadness per the advice of Aaron Bird Bear. The Bunny Class will never forget the Bur Oak; rather honor her by taking care of surrounding trees. The Native American belief that trees represent power and strength and that if all people could work together there would be peace for everyone resonates strong for the class.
Next Blog: A Song and Dance for the Tree