Professor’s research

Mickie Barg

Discussion ranged from ethnic cleansing to the federal government’s immigration policy Tuesday evening as an intimate gathering of scholars at the Immigration History Research Center met to discuss Norwegian colonization in Wisconsin.
Research done by Betty Bergland, assistant history professor at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, focuses on immigration in Wisconsin, specifically the town of Wittenberg. In her research, Bergland emphasizes the integration and relationships between the colonizers and the Hochunk, or Winnebago, tribe.
“The topic has impact because it helps us understand the distribution of wealth and resources and the related tensions between ethnic groups and social classes,” Bergland said.
The results of the interaction between the two groups has never been studied, and in her research Bergland finds inconsistencies in accepted theories.
For example, Wisconsin federal government Indian policy was to completely clear the land of tribes to make way for immigration. No land in Wisconsin was given to the tribe; rather, they were forced to move to reservations in Iowa and Minnesota.
At that time, the Norwegians solely benefitted from the policies.
“Ours is more of a history of conquest and ethnic cleansing,” said Keith Dyrud, an immigration scholar from Concordia College in St. Paul.
More so than the government, the church used its power to secure land for the immigrants. Bergland said, “The church could be seen as an arm of the federal government.”
The Norwegian missionary’s first concern was use of the land to build homes and churches. As a result, Bethany Mission in Wittenberg, which recruited money from congregations in Norway and the United States, was built.
“John Homme and Lutheran ministers felt the need of the Hochunk and started the mission,” reads an unauthored pamphlet.
Originally a home for orphans and the aged, eventually the clergy recruited the Hochunk’s children, who had migrated back to the land.
“Immigration is a never-ending social force,” said Joel Wurl, curator and assistant director at the Immigration History Research Center. “Today we have a new era of an immigration of refugees. What is missing from our understanding of immigration is the perspective of history.”