Wis. seeks more Hmong hunting instructors

WAUSAU, Wis. — A Hmong liaison officer for Wisconsin hopes to find another 20 volunteers from Hmong communities statewide to teach hunter education classes to aspiring new hunters.

Kou Xiong of the state Department of Natural Resources says he is one of only three Hmong certified to teach the classes out of about 4,900 volunteer teachers, most of them white men.

"We just cannot find anyone," Xiong said. "The Hmong kids just feel that if they have a Hmong instructor, they would prefer to attend the class. Some of the kids just don't feel comfortable in a regular class."

Anyone born after January 1973 must graduate from a hunter education class to buy a hunting license in Wisconsin. The class, which teaches everything from firearm safety to hunting ethics, is open to people of all ages.

The issue of Hmong hunters in Wisconsin -- and possible clashes between their culture rooted in Laos and the state's hunting traditions -- jumped to the forefront late last year.

A Hmong immigrant from St. Paul, Chai Soua Vang, 36, was charged with killing six white hunters and wounding two others in Sawyer County after a confrontation over trespassing.

The shootings occurred Nov. 21, the second day of Wisconsin's nine-day fall deer hunt.

Vang told investigators one of the white hunters fired the first shot after Vang was taunted by racial slurs, a claim two of the survivors deny, according to court records. A September trial is scheduled.

Duane Harvey of Janesville, president of the Wisconsin Hunter Education Instructor Association, expects the shooting incident to instigate plenty of discussions in the next round of hunter safety classes.

"I can expect a lot more ethics and a lot more landowner confrontation issues to be more specifically dealt with," he said. "We always instruct our students it is better to walk away than it is to push a confrontation."

Tim Lawhern, the DNR's hunter education coordinator, said he was unaware of any problems with Hmong not having access to the nearly 1,000 hunter education classes offered each year in Wisconsin.

The northern Wisconsin shootings opened the door for some to wrongly "cast stones" at the Hmong community and unfairly suggest problems when there were none before the tragedy, Lawhern said.

The Hmong, an ethnic minority, resettled in the United States after fleeing Laos when the communists seized control in 1975 after the end of the Vietnam War. About 46,000 live in Wisconsin.

Lawhern said he has no evidence of any major hunting problems between Hmong and other hunters related to any of the information presented in the hunter education classes. But he acknowledges problems may arise whenever there's a cultural barrier, and he would welcome more Hmong teachers.

"The benefit would be a better communication link with that community but also better representation of those people into our culture," he said.

If someone doesn't speak English and wants to take a hunter education class, arrangements are made to overcome that barrier, Lawhern said. Typically, a family member who speaks English accompanies the student.