Since the late 20th century, both tribal councils have authorized the development of casinos to generate revenue to support economic development, infrastructure, health care and education. The Ho-Chunk Nation is working on language restoration and has developed a Hoocąąk-language app for the iPhone. Since 1988, it has pursued a claim to the Badger Army Ammunition Plant as traditional territory; the area has since been declared surplus, but the Ho-Chunk have struggled with changes in policy at the Department of the Interior. The department supported the Ho-Chunk claim in 1998, but in 2011 refused to accept the property on their behalf.
In 1994, to build on its revenues from casinos, the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska created an economic development corporation; this has since grown and has received awards as a model of entrepreneurial small business. With a number of subsidiaries, it employs more than 1400 people. It has also contributed to housing construction on the reservation. Like more than 60% of federally recognized tribes, the Winnebago Tribe has legalized alcohol sales on the reservation to secure revenues that previously went to the state in retail taxes.
The Ho-Chunk was the dominant tribe in its territory in the 16th century, with a population estimated at several thousand. Their traditions hold that they have always lived in the area. Ethnologists have speculated that, like some other Siouan peoples, the Ho-Chunk originated along the East Coast and migrated west in ancient times. Nicolas Perrot wrote that the names given to them by neighboring Algonquian peoples may have referred to their origin near a salt water sea.
The Ho-Chunk suffered severe population losses in the 17th century, to a low of perhaps as few as 500 individuals. This has been attributed to the loss of hundreds of warriors in a lake storm, epidemics of infectious disease, and competition for resources from migrating Algonquian tribes. By the early 1800s, their population had increased to 2,900, but they suffered further losses in the smallpox epidemic of 1836. In 1990 they numbered 7,000; current estimates of total population of the two tribes are 12,000.
The Ho-Chunk are a patrilineal indigenous tribe who speak a Siouan language, which they believe to be given to them by their creator, Waxopini Xete (the Great Spirit). The Hoocąągra were also called various names by other tribes, often inspired by their fierceness in battle. At one point, they were even called "Stinkards" due to living by water sources with large algae blooms, including Green Bay and Lake Winnebago. The term "Winnebago" is a term used by the Potawatomi, pronounced as "Winnipego." Their native name is Ho-Chąąnk (or Hoocąạk), meaning "sacred voice". They usually refer to themselves as Hoocąąk-waazija-haa-chi meaning "sacred voice people of the Pines".
He started, in the month of June of the year one thousand six hundred and fifty-eight, from the lake of the Ouinipegouek, which is strictly only a large bay in lake Huron. It is called by others, the lake of the stinkards, not because it is salt like the water of the Sea -- which the Savages call Ouinipeg, or stinking water -- but because it is surrounded by sulphurous soil, whence issue several springs which convey into this lake the impurities absorbed by their waters in the places of their origin.
Nicolas Perrot was an early 20th-century historian who believed that the Algonquian terms referred to salt-water seas, as these have a distinctive aroma compared with fresh-water lakes. An early Jesuit record says that the name refers to the origin of Le Puans near the salt water seas to the north. Algonquins also called the Winnebago, "the people of the sea." (A Native people who lived on the shores of Hudson Bay were called by the same name.)
When the explorers Jean Nicolet and Samuel de Champlain learned of the "sea" connection to the tribe's name, they were optimistic that it meant Les puans were from or had lived near the Pacific Ocean. They hoped it indicated a passage to China via the great rivers of the Midwest.
In recent studies, ethnologists have concluded that the Hoocąągra, like the other Siouan-speaking peoples, originated on the east coast of North America and gradually migrated west. Recently, several Hoocąąk elders have claimed that they originated in the Midwest and that they predated the last ice age. The early 20th-century researcher
H.R. Holand claimed they originated in Mexico, where they had contact with the Spanish and gained a knowledge of horses. David Lee contends the Hoocąąk were once akin to the Olmec there. His evidence derived from a culture based on corn growing, civilization type, and mound building. This followed the receding ice shield. However, Holand cites the records of Jonathan Carver, who lived with the Hoocąągra in 1766–1768. But, contact with the Spanish could have occurred along the Gulf of Mexico or the south Atlantic coast, where other Hoocąąk type tribes originated and lived for centuries. Others suggested that the Hoocąągra originated near saltwater, to explain how mid-western tribes had a knowledge of the Pacific Ocean, which they described as being located where the earth ends and the sun sets into the sea. Generally the Hoocąągra claim that their people have always lived in what is now the north central United States.Linguistic and ethnographic studies have generated other deep histories of the various American Indian peoples.