Andi Cloud has “always, always” loved stories.
Growing up, Cloud was tucked into bed with a story told by her “gaga,” which means grandma in Ho-Chunk. For Cloud, storytelling is more than a calming nightly ritual — it’s part of her culture.
“As you grow up you hear these stories and you take them with you,” Cloud said. “When we hear each other’s stories we become connected in a way that you can’t get on a YouTube video, you can’t get it through film, you have to be there, you have to be present.”
Generations ago, the Ho-Chunk would use long winters to pass down tales of creation and life lessons, Cloud said. As the days become shorter and the air becomes colder in Madison, Cloud is continuing tradition by filling Madison’s many public libraries with storytelling.
Cloud, whose Ho-Chunk name is Nizuwinga meaning rain woman, was selected as the Madison Public Library’s first Native American Storyteller-in-Residence. An enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, Cloud saw an ad for the new program in her tribal newspaper and, after “marinating” on it, decided to apply.
Using the internet and stories she grew up hearing as her guides, she planned story times, presentations and traditional skill sharing events that will take place in libraries throughout Madison.
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The residency, titled “Ho-Chunk Through Story: The Origin, The Wayz, and The Life,” kicked off on Oct. 11, Indigenous People’s Day, and will end on Dec. 18.
The Ho-Chunk, also known as the Hoocąk, have inhabited the region where Madison now sits, traditionally known as Teejop or Dejope which means Four Lakes, “since time immemorial.” Cloud said it is important Wisconsin residents understand the Indigenous history of the region because “it is a part” of them.
“There are bridges out there, we just need to make them stronger and we need to come together and learn each other’s stories,” Cloud said. “When you understand something, you have a better appreciation for it … just like we’re proud of our Packers and our Brewers, Native people are a part of Wisconsin too.”
Created through a partnership with Ho-Chunk Gaming, the Storyteller-in-Residence program was inspired by a similar residency created in 2008 at Vancouver Public Library. Neeyati Shah, community engagement librarian with Madison Public Library, observed the program while completing her master’s degree in Vancouver, inspiring her to bring it to Wisconsin.
Shah said when she moved to Madison it was clear there was an “appetite” for education on Indigenous culture. She thought the Native American residency program would be a perfect fit, especially because the Madison Public Library already does programming around different heritage months.
“The library has all these community spaces and people who come to us to learn,” Shah said. “A residency is an opportunity to really dig-in deep … we’re just providing the space, the promotion and whatever support we can give (Cloud) for her to tell her stories on her terms.”
After selecting Cloud from about eight other applicants, library staff worked with her on finalizing events throughout September. The residency also allows storytellers to be compensated for the work they do. Shah said Cloud was given a stipend of $900 a month for the three-month program.
Because the residency is still in its infancy, Shah said she is unsure if it will be offered in the exact same form next year. She said the library wants to continue partnering with local tribal nations and will be collecting community feedback throughout the residency, using it to shape future programming focused on Indigenous cultural education.
The residency’s initial events lay the groundwork, teaching attendees about the history and structure of the Ho-Chunk Nation.
For a Storytime hosted Saturday at the Pinney Library patio, Cloud wore one of the many “wajes” or “women’s dresses” she has sewn. During the event she taught attendees about the 12 Ho-Chunk clans. Cloud, a member of the Thunder Clan, used hand-crafted collages to illustrate the different animals and tribal roles associated with each clan.
People of the Sacred Language
Continuing the oratory tradition of the Ho-Chunk also helps keep the tribal language and skills alive. Though Ho-Chunk can mean either “People of the Big Voice” or “People of the Sacred Language,” Cloud said today only a few elders still speak the Ho-Chunk language.
“My mom and her mother used to say that when we lose our language, that will be the end of the world,” Cloud said.
Incorporating both traditional names and skills into the residency will help “sustain” Ho-Chunk culture, Cloud said. One event will teach basket making, a “fading art” Ho-Chunk women used to do on roadsides, selling the baskets for income, Cloud explained.
While all of the stories and skills included in Cloud’s residency are unique to the Ho-Chunk, she said going forward, the program should be expanded to other tribes and regions.
“There needs to be more programming like this across the state and across the nation,” Cloud said. “All these tribes, they have their own stories, they have their own language, their own style of dress, their own clan systems and kinship systems and it’s beautiful.”