Historic Preview of the very first Ho-Chunk Library

By Ardith Van Riper

     On Monday, February 19, the Library Board hosted a Waagax Hakiruxara Hosto (Library) event at the District 1 Community Center (D1CC).  The event previewed the newly created tribal community Library, a first for the Ho-Chunk Nation.  The event program included: a welcome, a history of the Library, an introduction to the Board of Directors and the Librarian, viewing the evolving collections on a guided tour, and sharing a luncheon.  Ho-Chunk matriarchs JoAnn Jones and Janice Rice spearheaded the project.

     Janice Rice welcomed everyone.  She said that they always start with a blessing.

     Roger Snake offered a word of prayer for the Library.  He mentioned all those who had a hand in opening the Library, those in attendance at the preview event, those who will make use of the Library in the future, and that the Library continues to be a place of learning.

     Then, JoAnn Jones spoke about how the Library began.  “I was in law school, and I knew a Hispanic friend.  She was active in the Hispanic way and what people were doing to them.  Of course, a lot of them were like the immigrants at the border right now.  She was always fighting for them, and her family came up from Texas.  They worked the crops all the way up here to Wisconsin.  That’s how she got here.”

     Jones went on to explain the discussion between her and her friend.  They shared the experience that other people create so many obstacles for their Hispanic and Ho-Chunk people.  Two of those obstacles were the banning of books and the closing of libraries.  Janice Rice was a librarian at the University of Wisconsin for over 20 years, and so JoAnn Jones contacted Janice to discuss the two obstacles.  Mrs. Rice agreed that they needed to do something.

     JoAnn Jones’ friend gathered books to donate and drove them to Wisconsin from Ohio.  Meanwhile, Janice Rice contacted employees at the Ho-Chunk Nation Madison Branch Office because Jones and Rice didn’t know where they would keep the books.  The Branch Office Manager offered storage space.

     At the same time, the Youth Services Division Director, Lori Pettibone, offered the Youth Centers as a place to keep the books.  However, only children are allowed in that space, and adults would not have access to the books.  Pettibone then offered to find space in the D1CC.  That got the ball rolling, and people started volunteering.

     JoAnn Jones then spoke with President Jon Greendeer about the Library.  President Greendeer suggested talking with Legislators because the Library could spread to other branch offices and different areas outside Wisconsin.  Jones and Rice then opened a dialog with Representatives Karena Thundercloud, Rodney Rave, and Phyllis Smoke.  Those Representatives supported the Library project and passed a resolution.

     After that, the duo (JoAnn Jones and Janice Rice) attended area meetings, and the Library received approval everywhere.

     JoAnn Jones expressed her gratitude that everything in the Library was donated and had good feelings behind the work.  She began with the topic of banned books by Native American authors.  “They banned the book, Frybread!  They banned the book by Sharice Davids on her life becoming a Congresswoman.  We have almost all the banned books by waaksiks (Natives).” 

     Jones went on to say, “We want our youth, we want our tribal members to learn anything and everything they can.  There are people out there trying to dumb us down by not allowing our people to learn or have access to books.”

     Janice Rice introduced the Library Board members and thanked a few individuals who helped along the way.  She mentioned Lori Pettibone, Tina Brown, and Mike Rave.  The Library Board members are Ryan Crain, Sr., Hinu Helgesen-Smith, Priscilla (C-Ann) Cleveland, Bill Lowe, and Leslie Falcon.

     The Library Board members took the opportunity to share some background information.

     The Executive Director of Education, Ryan Crain, Sr., spoke first. “Prior to becoming the Executive Director, I was the BIA Grants Administrator.  Part of that grant begins with gathering community and family input of what they would like to see.  One of the families said they wanted to see a book club.”

     Crain went on to say that Leslie Falcon spearheaded a book club.  In that process, Leslie researched books.  Crain thought the research was excellent and suggested keeping a library.  So, Leslie Falcon started collecting the books.  She collected over 500 all-native-authored books in her research library.

     Then, Jones and Rice contacted Ryan Crain, Sr. to ask what he was doing about these banned books.  He shared the Leslie Falcon collection with them.  The duo shared what they had, and then the group decided to move forward.

     Next, Hinu Helgesen-Smith shared her journey, “I’m the Executive Director of Agriculture but I am here on my own time. This is a volunteer board.”

     Hinu continued to talk about her childhood love of books and how today’s children are growing up with computers, notepads, and tablets.  She wants to revitalize the love of books in today’s children and provide them with the experience of reading a book.

     C-Ann Cleveland said, “I’m glad you all came here to witness our first Library preview.  (The month of) May will be the grand opening.”

     C-Ann also shared her love of reading and the enormous collection she has at home. She said JoAnn Jones approached her while she was cooking and reading in her spare time.  Jones recruited C-Ann then and there.  C-Ann was a Tomah middle school teacher for 28 years and worked at book fairs.  Cleveland also donated some books from her collection to the Ho-Chunk Library.

     Bill Lowe is the Vice-President of the Library Board.  He said, “When you tour the Library we have, it’s a start.  You won’t see it as a Library but it’s coming.”

     Leslie Falcon is the librarian.  She said, “I’m am super excited to be here.  I am grateful to be a part of this.”

     Leslie has been researching all-native-authored books for two and a half years.  The Library Board collected over 700 all-native authored books; majority are children’s books, but there are books for adults, too. Leslie explained the Library moved into this space in the D1CC the week of Christmas.  Falcon welcomes any help.

     Janice Rice shared a list of collaborators.  She thanked the Department of Education, the Department of Administration for providing space for the Library, the Legislature for approving the two resolutions for applying for grants, the D1CC staff, and the cooks for today’s event. Janice also thanked the Executive Branch for their support.

     Ho-Chunk Nation Jon Greendeer offered insight on behalf of the Executive Branch.  He shared how he is a crafter, and tans deer hides.  President Greendeer said the tanning process is hard work and may turn out differently than you think.  However, the result of watching people enjoying the craft is worth it.  Jon Greendeer shared how excited JoAnn Jones and Janice Rice were when they pitched the idea to him.  The duo is a driving force.

     President Greendeer went on to discuss the onslaught of folks who have been loyally supportive of anti-diversity and equity initiatives and are literally pulling books off the shelf.  Some of these books are in danger of not being exposed.

     “As we look forward to, what I believe is the horizon, we do see a large facility,” President Greendeer said. “Libraries are not just about books.  Libraries are about learning and they are about experience.  This goes on to maintaining partial archiving for materials that may not be public but need to be preserved.”

     President Greendeer went on to talk about celebrating the work that JoAnn Joes has done and is doing for the Ho-Chunk Nation.    

     Then, JoAnn Jones added to the list of thanks and background information.  “We don’t want our children to lose their Indian identity.”  She spoke about Ho-Chunk values and how they killed off our leaders who knew our ways.  Jones wants to re-ignite that knowledge in our young people so that they remember it and work it on the principles of Ho-Chunk values.

     “The reason we are opening this Library is because they are shutting down libraries, the state, the federals, and here we are, a sovereign nation.  We can keep our libraries open.  We won’t be shut down by the county or the state because as Ho-Chunk’s, we can do that.  Our people had knowledge of everything, the stars, the spirits, the trees, and the water. They have all that knowledge and that’s what we want to have in our books and have access to these things.”

     Jones thanked all those who made donations and people who assisted with setting up the Library.  She thanked the Tribal Office Building Maintenance staff, Theodore Yellowcloud, Cody Shisler, and Waylon Pettibone, for helping move Leslie’s collection from the Tribal Office Building to the D1CC.  JoAnn also thanked D1CC staff, Tina Brown, Rosalind Funmaker, Thorn WhiteEagle, Clarence Pettibone, and Kenny Greengrass for welcoming the Library into the facility with open arms and a smile.

     JoAnn Jones went on to mention individuals.  She began with Barbara Blackdeer-Mackenzie for a monetary donation.  She also thanked Sarina Falcon, Margaret Falcon, and Victoria Houghton for preparing the luncheon.  Jones expressed gratitude to Lori Pettibone for helping the Library Board and assisting with travel to Lac Courte Oreilles.  JoAnn mentioned Michael Rave and Tina Brown for providing a Library place.  She also thanked President Jon Greendeer for his support, Carol Garvin and the Planning Department for assistance with the grants, Loa Porter for her grant assistance, Ken Lewis for creating the Library flyer and logo, and Ardith Van Riper for recording the historic Library preview event.

     Janice Rice said she didn’t want to forget to mention the Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums Student Group (TLAM) and the assistance they offered.  The TLAM Student Group is dedicated to informing and engaging the community on the unique cultural and information issues in tribal libraries, archives, and museums.  Rice introduced Cassy Leeport.  Leeport explained the TLAM program and introduced some of the students.  Two TLAM students presented Janice Rice with gifts of tea from Madison and a homemade braid of sweet grass.

     The Library has staggered openings.  This preview event is just the beginning.  The Library needs more help, books, shelves, carts, display cases, funding, and resources.  A capital campaign is the next step, and the Library Board will seek contributions.

     The duo requested Roger Snake offer a word of prayer for the food.  Then, the group held a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

     All those in attendance were invited to view the Library.  However, the book cataloging still needs to be completed for circulation.  Therefore, the books still need to be prepared for check-out.  The Library Board requests people read books in the room until the cataloging is complete.

     The Library is located on the second floor of the D1CC.

     The official grand opening will be sometime during May 2024.