HmongSportsmen 04-25 Web
Hunters hope to ease tensions
Some 15 months after a white hunter killed a Hmong hunter in the woods of northeast Wisconsin, a Hmong hunting and fishing club is forming to help ease racial tensions.
The Hmong Sportsmen Club in Green Bay will teach Hmong hunters and anglers about the Wisconsin outdoors and provide an opportunity for them to share their culture and outdoor traditions with others, its organizer said.
"I hope this club will help to reduce or relieve a lot of the tensions or friction between the communities," interim president Wayia Thao said. "We wanted to have an organization that can interact with other outdoor groups."
It’s the first Hmong outdoors group formally organized in Wisconsin, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
The group is starting with about seven members and will meet May 7 to elect officers, Thao said. He hopes membership will grow to more than 20.
Other clubs have already organized elsewhere because of racial tensions between Southeast Asian hunters and whites.
The Capitol Sportsmen’s chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association formed about a year ago in St. Paul. Southeast Asian hunters are most of its nearly 100 members, President Pajtscheng Vang said.
"The problem that happened in Wisconsin, we don’t want that to happen in Minnesota," Vang said. "We need to educate our people to make sure we understand the rules and regulations and all those things. ... We are trying to make friends with everybody."
Two fatal confrontations between Hmong and white hunters in Wisconsin left seven hunters dead, sent two to prison and heightened racial tensions.
James Nichols, 29, was sentenced in November to 69 years in prison for shooting and stabbing Cha Vang, 30, in a wildlife refuge near Peshtigo, about 40 miles north of Green Bay. Nichols claimed he acted in self-defense after the two argued while separately hunting squirrels.
His conviction came nearly three years after a Hmong hunter shot and killed six white deer hunters following a racially charged argument about trespassing in northwest Wisconsin. Chai Soua Vang of St. Paul, Minn. — who is not related to Cha Vang — is serving multiple life sentences.
The Hmong are an ethnic group that fled Laos for the United States after the communists seized control in 1975 following the Vietnam War. Many settled in Minnesota, Wisconsin and California. Hunting and fishing were part of their day-to-day existence in Southeast Asia.
Wisconsin has about 35,000 Hmong, though it’s unknown how many hunt and fish because the state does not track licenses by race.
Hmong haven’t joined traditional outdoor clubs partly because they don’t feel comfortable with them and partly because of language barriers among older refugees, Thao said. But Hmong and U.S. soldiers who fought together in the Vietnam War had much in common, he said.
"We want to make sure both sides go back to some of what we were in the past," Thao said. "We want to keep that relationship strong and be as a family."
Randy Stark, the DNR’s chief of law enforcement, welcomed the new club, calling it a "great step forward" in conservation efforts.
"Given the changing culture demographics of this country, the future stewards of the natural resources are going to be a much more diverse community than today," Stark said. "We need everyone involved in this process."
Chue Lor, 41, of De Pere, learned to hunt with his father in Laos before coming to the U.S. in 1979. He said he sees the club as a way to help Hmong, especially new hunters, understand the law and how to "hunt in the right way."
He also hopes forums with DNR experts will help ease fears created by the shootings, particularly among young people who have never learned to hunt and older adults who don’t want their children in what appears to be dangerous situations, he said.
Viluck Kue, director of the Wisconsin United Coalition of Mutual Assistance Associations, which represents 14 Hmong associations throughout the state, said he expected other Hmong sportsmen clubs would form.
"It will be good for the Hmong and Caucasians to work and hunt together and have activities together," he said.