Michel: Recognizing Madison’s indigenous roots

December cover story represents some remarkable...
Michel: Recognizing Madison’s indigenous roots

This month’s stunning cover and the story inside symbolize much more than this magazine’s recognition of Madison’s indigenous roots. To me they represent some remarkable firsts.

I am quite certain that this is the first time a Ho-Chunk person has graced the cover this prominently in the magazine’s thirty-seven-year history. We have written about the Native American community over the years, but never before have we shared Ho-Chunk history in this much depth, or recounted the Ho-Chunk legend of how the four lakes surrounding Madison–Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa–were formed. That is, until this issue.

Readers might assume that this story came about at my urging, being that I am Ho-Chunk. But the idea actually came from my editors Katie Vaughn and Andrea Behling. That is significant. It marks the first time in my career that my colleagues suggested we write a feature about my people without there being a controversy attached to the story, or a news event being tied to it, or because it was Thanksgiving. It made me feel that my presence as a Native American in the workplace matters, and I never felt quite like that before. I became a journalist to write about people and communities that are often ignored by mainstream media and, hopefully, to encourage others to take similar action. Katie and Andrea–plus my boss Mike Kornemann and the entire Madison Magazine staff, who make a practice of seeking out diverse stories–allowed me to see that vision unfold in a story about my own community. That is as powerful to me as the image on this month’s cover.

Something I must disclose is that the people mentioned in the cover story are my relatives. I was cognizant of this fact as I suggested sources to my writer, Maggie Ginsberg, and encouraged her to use one of them only for background. But because we are a small tribe of fewer than seven thousand members (with fewer than three hundred living in Dane County) and because some tribal members declined to be interviewed for the cover story, one of the sources quoted is my sister, a Madison-area resident for thirty-eight years. My ethics as a journalist require me to be transparent about that. It’s the first time I have edited a story in which one of my siblings is quoted.

There is so much great content in this issue. We have seasoned editors and contributors who know this city and write with authority about issues and happenings in Madison. From our story on “Seven Things We Think We Know About Madison in 2015″ to our arts and food coverage, we deliver all of it in our distinctive style.

That’s not a first, but it is remarkable.