Is time running out for sacred oak on UW-Eau Claire campus?

By: Mary Rinzel Email
By: Mary Rinzel Email

The controversy surrounding a sacred tree continues at UW-Eau Claire.

Tuesday, the city council could approve a site plan for a $48.8 million student center. Monday, more than 50 people gathered for a brainstorming session on campus. There was talk of a petition that's circulating, a resolution that's on its way to the student senate and passionate pleas to save the Council Oak.

It’s a tree deep in history; now at the heart of a $49 million debate.

"I know not everyone is going to be happy with one solution," said Student Body President Michael Umhoefer.

Monday, no solution was found. But, for the people speaking up the message was clear: Save the Council Oak.

"This seems like a really good opportunity for the university to recognize we have a hole in our heritage here," said Hickory Tate, a UW-EC sophomore.

Many like Tate were surprised how few people even knew about the tree. It's on the school's seal, but no one knew it existed or the history behind it.

“You can't move a sacred site. You can't pretend somewhere else is a sacred site. You can't take another tree and perform some kind of ceremony and transfer the spiritual aspects to that tree. You can't," said Dr. Wendy Makoons Geniusz, director of American Indian Studies at UW-Eau Claire.

Makoons Geniusz said options like uprooting the tree are a slap in the face to Native Americans. She, along with about dozen others, said the only option is to rethink the plans. But, that's something the chair of the Davies Center Steering Committee says could be extremely costly to do.

“There is an economic reality in all of this. As much as we think the values are most important, we also have a stewardess to our student body that is paying for the building to listen to them as well," said Dr. Beth Hellwig.

But, is time running out for the Council Oak? The university wants the discussions to continue, but the Board of Regents is set to consider the plans in mid October.

Hellwig says in the coming weeks, the university will be checking to make sure the ground around the tree isn't an ancient burial site. She says students started paying fees toward the new student center seven years ago. Right now, they're around $160 a year.


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  • by Anonymous on Sep 23, 2009 at 12:28 PM
    I agree with anon. Then, while you are at it, get rid of all of the looney christian churches in eau claire. What a waste of space and wood. They could use them for firewood instead of cult headquarters like now.
  • by anon Location: anon on Sep 23, 2009 at 01:34 AM
    you tree huggers should go to madison where you belong....chop the tree down and build the student center...sacred tree...what a joke...looks like good firewood to me
  • by Nathaniel on Sep 22, 2009 at 01:58 PM
    I, too, am somewhat confused by Makoons Geniusz's comment, "You can't take another tree and perform some kind of ceremony and transfer the spiritual aspects to that tree." After reading the stories during the past week, I now understand the importance of the tree and the site, but as a previous post stated, this is not the original tree. In fact, a portion of the original tree was now a bench inside McIntyre Library as of about a year ago. I think the bigger question is why now? This particular site plan was developed at least two years ago. Why wasn't this an issue back when the plans were introduced? On the other hand, did the university make it known the tree was in danger?
  • by katt Location: barron on Sep 22, 2009 at 11:09 AM
    Why don't they just go to a cemetery and knock over some tombstones while they're at it? Same difference - the tombstones have no meaning to the families of those deceased... right?
  • by L Location: O on Sep 22, 2009 at 10:18 AM
    So are you telling me that it is a tree that is holding everyone together, that if this tree gets cut down that all the feelings everyone has for their ancestors will be gone??
  • by Doug Location: E.C. on Sep 22, 2009 at 06:51 AM
    What part of "Sacred" do you people not understand? What ever happened to respect and decency? Can a building and a tree co-exist? YES! Has anyone NOT been in a building with live trees in it? There are plenty of examples. I'd have to say if you're spending $49 million, you can afford a courtyard in the center. Long Live the Council Oak!
  • by Philo Location: Eau Claire on Sep 22, 2009 at 01:09 AM
    Why don't we dig up a Christian cemetery and build it there? Think outside the 'box', people! It's sad when some people can have absolutely NO reverence to anything except their own beliefs. If you believed the spirits of your ancestors lived in a certain place, would YOU want a student center built there? Grow up, and have a little respect. This isn't JUST a tree we're talking about. The tree represents a peaceful 'coming together', which is understandably lacking in those who wish to remove it. If we're just going to throw away such a powerful thing, we might as well change the university logo to a dollar sign...
  • by Puzzled by the Logic. Location: White Oak in a field. on Sep 21, 2009 at 11:07 PM
    Ms. Geniusz says "...You can't take another tree and perform some kind of ceremony and transfer the spiritual aspects to that tree. You can't" yet they did just that with the current tree. its not the original! This was reported on WEAU earlier, look it up. Can't have it both ways, you can't! If it's sacred ground, its spiritual value started slipping away when they built the school. time to move on, its a university. build the building and do ceremony on another tree, you've done it before.
  • by A. Location: eau claire on Sep 21, 2009 at 07:56 PM
    Why don't they have a courtyard or something and build around the tree?
  • by build Location: EC on Sep 21, 2009 at 07:50 PM
    All this fuss over a tree. Come on people get real. I say go ahead as planned before somebody else comes up with another idea to stop the student center from being built.
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