The Ho-Chunk Native Americans were indigenous to the northern midwest region of the United States at the time of European contact in the early 17th century. The group subsisted on hunting, agriculture, fishing and collecting wild rice at the time. The Ho-Chunk language is part of the Siouan family of Great Plains and Midwestern tribes.
After European contact, the population of the Ho-Chunk people, initially estimated between 8,000 and 20,000 in Nicolet's 1634 report, declined steeply. This was largely due to the introduction of diseases, such as smallpox, from European explorers. These indigenous people had no immunity, and epidemics arose. Warfare with other tribes reduced Ho-Chunk numbers to a low of 500 members in the early 18th century.
The Ho-Chunk originally comprised 12 clans, named after animals or aspects important to the mythology of the people. After significant population decline, two bands emerged and survived into the 20th century, formalized as the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. The former, as the larger of the two, refers to themselves as the Wonkshieks, or "First People of the Old Island," while the latter are the Hochungra, or "People of the Parent Speech." As of 2015, the two groups account for approximately 12,000 members.