Highlighting Ho-Chunk Language Learners: Dana Houghton

By Kaili Berg

     Language is history, language is life, and language is the cultural health of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Fewer than 30 first language or eminent speakers are left.

     Dana Houghton (Ruucgei), Systems Technician, is from Black River Falls where she grew up on the Indian Mission with her parents Anna Taylor and Virgil Pettibone. She is from the pigeon clan and began learning Ho-Chunk from her younger siblings

     “My siblings were my first teachers. I remember them counting and singing the flag song when I was younger, and was always curious as to what they were saying,” said Houghton. “I didn't really grow up around the language, learning it is something that is new to me. I started to really learn the language when I was in my late twenties,” said Houghton.

     Back in 2016, the Ho-Chunk Language Division offered a pathways class for students to attend. Houghton signed up for the class and received her certificate. Continuing her language learning, she participated in a language baseball tournament at the Tribal Office Building where she met with language teachers to help out in competing.

     “The competitiveness made me engage in the language more. I didn’t want to let my team down. I knew I needed to learn more and from there the love of the language just grew on me.”

     After finding her love for the language, Houghton became a language apprentice but was laid off shortly after due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

     “I learned a lot while being an apprentice. Even though I got laid off I still continue to learn, continue going to classes, and engage as much as I can with the language.”

     Houghton said she continues her passion to learn regularly and would like to become a language apprentice again so that she can learn all that she can to eventually become a teacher in schools.

     “That is my dream right now. To become a teacher and to make my instructors proud and to have them know that I took their teaching seriously and am doing my part in passing their knowledge along for future generations.”

     Houghton encourages anyone who wants to learn the language by getting out there and just trying it.

     “Language can be scary at first but you will not know unless you try. Once you try then you will realize how much of an impact you are not only making for yourself but for everyone,” said Houghton. “Our language is dying, and our language is who we are. It is what makes us unique and if we don't have that then who are we as Ho-Chunks.”