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Council Oak Display

The Council Oak tree — a historic place of peace — is framed by the windows of the Council Oak Room, Davies Center 260. A set of photo panels that relates the history of the tree hangs in the corridor outside the meeting space.

Council Oak Tree Photo Panel

Davies Center occupies a site that was the historic meeting grounds of the Dakota and Ojibwe people, who made peace in the 1850s after a bitter war that spanned 150 years.
The treaty line is thought to be at the mouth of the Little Niagara Creek on the Chippewa River. Names of meeting spaces in the original and the present Davies Center honor the Ojibwe and Dakota and other native people of Wisconsin, including the Ho-Chunk, Menominee and Potawatomi tribal members who used the Council Oak tree and its surroundings as a shelter and gathering place.

With a girth of nine feet and a diameter of three-and-a-half feet, the original Council Oak tree was a majestic burr oak. It became a campus landmark when surrounding underbrush and smaller trees were removed in constructing an athletic field south of Old Main. For decades students met and studied under the branches of the grand old tree.

The Council Oak has been revered by new generations of students since the 1970s, when courses dealing with Native American culture began to be taught and the American Indian Studies program was founded.

Dr. Kenneth Campbell, professor of art, designed the university seal for the Golden Jubilee Year of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He placed the Council Oak tree at its center as a symbol of strength, beauty and knowledge. Later that same year, on July 10, 1966, the Council Oak tree lost its perfect symmetry when it was severely damaged by lightning. The 300-year-old tree survived until May 29, 1987, when it was destroyed in a windstorm.

Confluence, a 1991 sculpture by Robert T. Leverich, was built in part of wood from the historic Council Oak tree. Commissioned by the University Foundation for the 75th anniversary of the campus, the sculpture was originally installed in the front stairwell of Schofield Hall. It is now installed in the main stairwell of the College of Nursing building, overlooking the Council Oak.

The Council Oak that stands today was planted in a sunrise ceremony on Earth Day 1990. The white oak was dedicated by Ojibwe tribal elders John Anderson of the Lac Courte Oreilles and Ernie St. Germaine of the Lac du Flambeau, who summoned and spoke to the spirits and tied colored ribbons representing the four directions to the tree’s branches. The university made a solemn commitment to nurture and protect the Council Oak tree for the next 300 years. The university community ensured that this commitment was honored when the present Davies Center was constructed.

In creating the Council Oak display panels, graphic designer and photographer Amanda Obenhoffer selected and edited images from the Special Collections and Archives area of McIntyre Library and the photo archives of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. Obenhoffer received a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography from UW-Eau Claire in 2006, and a BFA in graphic design in 2010. She joined the University Centers staff in 2009.