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Henry Vilas Zoo Prairie Project

Learn more about the Prairie Signs!

At Henry Vilas Zoo we are dedicated to providing an inclusive experience for all visitors. As part of our commitment, we are enhancing our on-grounds signage.

Through our Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Committee, we conducted a survey to address barriers and listened to community stakeholders. In 2023, we created new interpretive media for our North American prairie spaces, featuring bison, badgers, and sandhill cranes thanks to a generous donation from a private funder. 

The project encompasses four sign spaces along the bison walkway, representing the four seasons. Within each season, the panels delve into human connections, animal information, and interactive elements intertwined with captivating Indigenous stories. To amplify the voices of Indigenous members of our community and highlight the importance of their language, keywords and phrases will be translated into the Ho-Chunk language. Additionally, we featured a QR code, enabling visitors to access full Ho-Chunk translations on our website.

Through this project, we strive to honor the land of the Ho-Chunk people and create a space for Indigenous stories to be shared. By incorporating the Ho-Chunk language in our signage, we aim to promote cultural preservation, celebrate linguistic diversity, and foster a deeper understanding of the Indigenous heritage of our region.

Join us as we celebrate the profound connections between animals, nature, and our community. Experience the Prairie Exhibit Signage at Henry Vilas Zoo and immerse yourself in the wonders of our natural heritage while honoring the voices and languages of the Indigenous communities that call this land home.

Bios of members of our Indigenous community who collaborated with us on this project: 

Kendra Greendeer

Kendra Greendeer, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and descendant of the Red Cliff and Fond du Lac Bands of Lake Superior Ojibwe, is a Ph.D. candidate in Art History with a focus on contemporary Native women artists, the transformation of spaces, and decolonial museum practices. Her recent curatorial and academic work encompasses Native American arts and the history of the United States. Most recently Kendra has curated and been the conservator for objects exhibited in Ho-Chunk Objects displayed in the permanent installation “Mrs. M’s Cabinet” at the Milwaukee Art Museum and in the co-curated exhibition Intersections: Indigenous Textiles of the Americas at the Ruth Davis Gallery on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus.

Kimberly Blaeser

Kimberly Blaeser, a former Wisconsin Poet Laureate and founding director of In-Na-Po, Indigenous Nations Poets, is the author of five poetry collections including Copper Yearning and Résister en dansant/Ikwe-niimi: Dancing Resistance. An enrolled member of the White Earth Nation, Blaeser is an Anishinaabe activist and environmentalist, a Professor Emerita at UW–Milwaukee, and an MFA faculty member at Institute of American Indian Arts. Her book, Ancient Light, is forthcoming from University of Arizona Press in 2024.

John Lee 

John Lee is a Ho-Chunk tribal member from Tomah, WI. He received a PhD in physics from the University of Washington in 2020 for his work testing the inverse square law for gravity at short distances and currently works as a cryogenic physicist at Honeywell. He has also been learning the Ho-Chunk language from a young age and is passionate about continuing to learn, teach, and share the language with others. John provided translation services for this project. 

Elena Terry

Elena Terry is the Executive Chef/Founder of Wild Bearies. After having been a traditional foods cook, and worked in the restaurant industry for over a decade. Several years ago, Elena shifted her focus on community building as she merged her passions and focused on educating through indigenous foods. Elena is the Food and Culinary Program Coordinator for the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance as well as in partnerships with the Intertribal Agriculture Council, Meskwaki Food Sovereignty Initiative and UW Horticulture Department.

Henry Vilas Zoo Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that this land resides on the unyielded territories of the Ho-Chunk Nation. The Ho-Chunk people have been stewards of this land since time immemorial and we are grateful for their stewardship and care. We recognize the complex relationship that exists between Indigenous People and this land. We commit to listening to our Elders as we strive towards a healthier world for future generations