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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

Part 4 of a tribute to notable Wisconsin women

As my tribute to notable Wisconsin women comes to an end, I feel strongly compelled to share the achievements and bravery of Ingrid Washinawatok, a human rights advocate born into the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin. After beginning her activism journey in high school, Washinawatok went on to graduate from both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Havana, Cuba. Her advocacy resulted in significant political and social moves but ended far too soon, as she was taken hostage and killed in Columbia at only 42 years old. Through learning about her life story, her goals and her ambitions, we remember, honor and look up to Ingrid Washinawatok. 

Let’s take it back to the year 1957. Ingrid was born to parents James and Gwendolyn Washinawatok, founders of a grassroots movement to stop the sale of Menominee land and restore it to its former beauty. Washinawatok clearly learned activism at a young age, because while attending high school, she joined a federal committee whose goal was to reinstate federal recognition of the Menominee tribe. At this time, in the 1960s and early 70s, the United States was operating under what is referred to as the Indian Termination Policy. This was essentially meant to dissolve all responsibility of the federal government toward preserving indigenous land. The result was thousands of indigenous communities plummeting to poverty and scattered across metropolitan areas. Washinawatok could not stand idly by and watch her community be destroyed. 

As a 17 year old intern, Ingrid moved to New York City to continue monitoring and advocating for the rights of her tribe. After high school, she moved on to higher education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (!) and the University of Havana, Cuba. Washinawatok is just one of many UW alums we can look up to as role models for future success. During this time she was also traveling globally to speak about indigenous rights. Arguably, the peak of Ingrid’s career occurred in 1998, when she was named executive director of Fund of the Four Directions, a national philanthropic organization. 

In 1999, Washinawatok and two of her colleagues traveled to South America, with the intention of advocating for the U’wa tribe in Columbia. Their land was being overpowered by companies wanting to profit from oil drilling, so Washinawatok brought a team to help organize and build a school system, effectively protecting their people from a takeover by oil companies. On the return trip home, the three activists were kidnapped by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a Marxist-Leninist guerilla rebel group who was particularly active in Columbia at the time. Tragically, Washinawatok and her colleagues were killed by this group. 

Ingrid Washinawatok was such a success and an inspiration that her husband continued her legacy after her untimely death in 1999. The Flying Eagle Woman Fund, founded by husband Ali El-Issa, works to further the causes that Ingrid was passionate about: the preservation of indigenous language, land and human rights. Each year, they put on an event, commemorating the life and achievements of Ingrid Washinawatok, which is sponsored by local indigenous rights organizations and attended by hundreds. 

Indigenous people have been wronged time and time again in our country and around the world. Even now, I am writing this article for a student organization on a campus whose land was stolen from the Ho-Chunk nation, destroying communities, ways of life and even sacred burial ground. Ingrid Washinawatok, a UW alum, is a shining example of the activism that still needs to be done to even scratch the surface of righting past wrongs. If there’s one thing to take away from the series Wisconsin Women, it is that we must look to her and the many powerful women just like her as inspiration and as motivation to learn, grow and move forward. 

On, Wisconsin!

Ruby Farnham

Wisconsin '26

Hi! I’m Ruby Farnham, a managing editor for Her Campus WI. Originally from Superior, Wisconsin, I’m a sophomore at UW, studying Human Development and Communication Sciences. You could describe me as a feminist, a Swiftie, an optimist, a camp counselor, and of course a writer! Thank you for reading my articles.