Ho Chunks working to keep native language alive

By  | 

BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) - A group in the Black River Falls area is traveling to schools, to teach students valuable lessons.

In a war of words, members of the Ho Chunk Nation are fighting to keep its language alive, hoping younger generations will learn to speak it, and that parents can pass it on to their children.

A small group of one and two-year-olds come to The Children's Learning Village Montessori Academy in Black River Falls. They learn about things they see every day, but in a different way.

Bonnie Bird is an early childhood college student, doing placement at the academy. She uses what she's learned throughout her life to teach the Ho Chunk language, and keep it alive.

“After hearing (Ho Chunk words) over and over and over, they'll start connecting words and realizing that what I’m saying has meaning, just like the English words they're learning,” Bird said.

“The younger generation now, because they're not hearing it at home, it's becoming lost. They don't use it.”

“Learning the language helps children identify with 'I am something bigger, I’m a part of a nation. It gives them a sense of belonging and understanding of themselves and the Ho Chunk people,” Bird said.

As an apprentice, Bird and a handful of others are still learning, from Ho Chunk instructors.

“The Ho Chunk language is a prestigious language. It identifies who we are and what we are today,” instructor Andrew Thundercloud said.

“When you speak Ho Chunk, you have a better understanding what you're talking about. The interpretation of speaking ho chunk they could be more precise. They could paint you a picture,” instructor Wayne Falcon said.

“Each one of us, any nationality, was given a language to communicate to the creator himself. So I make it a practice to use our Ho Chunk language, because that's the language that was given to us,” elderly speaker Wilbert Cleveland said.

The elders said Ho Chunk is no longer picked up as a first language, and although many learn it, few converse in their native tongue.

“It is being lost and we want to keep it alive,” instructor Maxine Kolner said.

“We've been told that one of these days, when our language is lost, that's the end of the world.” “They're talking about the end of we as Ho Chunk people. It's something that I would not like to see,” Thundercloud said.

The nation members said they hope their own efforts and classes taught at high schools and UW Madison will allow “the people of the big voice” to be heard for generations to come.

The elders said the Ho Chunk language is similar to other native languages, and that it suffered in the 1930s when boarding schools punished students for speaking their native tongue.

For more information on how and where to learn their language, go to the website below.