For the past six months, Jessi Falcon and Samson Falcon have been coordinating Ho-Chunk language classes in Wisconsin Dells, Tomah, and Black River Falls that cater to students who have a strong fundamental base of the Ho-Chunk language.
“The idea is that they grew up in homes where Ho-Chunk was the first language or the main language used for communication. So, these people grew up hearing the language, they may not have had to use the language, but they understand the language,” Jessi Falcon said.
The undertaking is the first language class of its kind. Ho-Chunk language classes are currently offered in high schools at Black River Falls, Tomah, and Wisconsin Dells.
The First Listeners classes are made up of Ho-Chunk students of all ages from elementary school kids to elite elders. Those who have been through Ho-Chunk language immersion daycares, former students who have taken Ho-Chunk language classes offered in high schools, and those who have grown up hearing the language all make up the student body in the First Listeners classes.
“What we are trying to do is to create a movement to get communities more involved in language,” Jessi Falcon said.
“We are trying to advocate that they are owners of the language, the language division is not the owner of the language – our people are it’s their language to share. We are giving them tools. We need to get them speaking at a proficiency that they are comfortable enough to teach the language,” Falcon said.
The First Listeners students are all joined in a similar goal. Each student is striving to expand their knowledge of the Ho-Chunk language so they can share and speak Ho-Chunk with their communities.
“I’m reminded our Ho-Chunk speakers are leaving us, and I wanted to speak better and use it all of the time with my family and my community. We have to use our language for our own future generations because when our language dies, our culture dies,” First Listeners student Jo Ann Jones said.
“I want to learn the alphabet, so I know how to write the alphabet and verbs. Our young ones are going to learn that way I think,” Jones said.
According to Ho-Chunk Nation Language Division Manager Adrienne Thunder, the First Listeners Project is a strong component in promoting learning and teaching Ho-Chunk language apart from the traditional classroom format.
“Overall with the Language Division we see this as a process for people to incorporate language in their lives,” Thunder said.
The Language Division is trying to make Ho-Chunk language learning a lifelong endeavor, whether they are working with elementary school kids or retired elders.
“We need a lot of help and awareness,” Thunder said. A key element in teaching the language is making the learning process enjoyable and fun.
“No matter what your interests are, language is going to be involved,” Thunder said.
“The better we can make it a ‘we’ initiative,” Thunder said, the stronger the state of the language will be.
“Hopefully we’ll strengthen our communities that way,” Thunder said.