A Digital Ho-Chunk Archive as a Language Learning Resource

By Andrea Cudworth

In January 2017, I was one of 17 UW – Madison students in the Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums (TLAM) class (LIS 640) who began a joint project with the Hoocąk Waaziija Haci Language Division (HLD) to develop a digital archive of language and cultural materials. The project helped the division inventory, catalog, and digitize educational and cultural materials stored there over decades. We decided to build the catalog and database around the Ho-Chunk materials, rather than organize Native knowledge in a Western way. The catalog includes categories tailored to the needs and expectations of the Ho-Chunk learners and instructors, as well as Eminent Speaker Ho-Chunk elders.

The HLD runs many Ho-Chunk language programs, such as Ho-Chunk Academy, Headstart, and the Language Apprentice Program, among others and the archive supports that work. The catalog includes information like learner level, what type of Ho-Chunk language was included (vocabulary lists, grammar exercises, worksheets, answer guides for instructors, etc.), which spelling conventions were used, and more. All paper and audio/visual materials are being digitized as well. Today, staff at the HLD are able to help language learners and instructors find materials and can send them a .pdf or .mp3 right away. These digital files provide a foundation of a digital archive of Ho-Chunk language education materials.

UW students and HLD staff have cataloged and digitized almost two decades’ worth of language materials produced by the HLD and instructors. These workbooks, exercises, and more are invaluable for maintaining and revitalizing the Ho-Chunk language. Instructors can access older materials, and upload their own to build a larger language learning and supporting community.

The HLD audio/visual materials contain over 50 years of recordings — from interviews with elders, traditional songs and stories, to language lessons and hours of recordings entirely in Ho-Chunk. Adding these to the digital database provides learners and instructors access to hearing the Ho-Chunk language in use, from a wide variety of speakers.

The Ho-Chunk community is spread across Wisconsin and far beyond. A digital repository creates access to the language to any community member who wishes to learn more. We hope it will continue to grow.

Our work has been supported by the IMLS grant Growing Great Lakes Culture Keepers: Bringing Together LIS Students and Tribal Librarians Archivists, and Museum Curators to Create Through Continuing Education, and the IMLS grant Mukurtu Hubs & Spokes: A Sustainable National Platform for Community Digital Archiving. Even while the project is still in its early stages, a few examples are available already at the Mukurtu Midwest sandbox site: https://mukurtu-midwest.libraries.wsu.edu/

We never know what we will come across in the course of this project. In a single day, we cataloged DVCams, cassettes, DVDs, and vinyl records all containing historical and cultural recordings of the Ho-Chunk language.
Beginner Ho-Chunk Language dictionaries, workbooks, and listening exercises.
UW – Madison student volunteers Kristen Maples (left) and Amy Sampson cataloging Ho-Chunk language materials.
The home page of the Hoocąk Waaziija Haci Language Division Community at the Mukurtu Midwest sandbox site.

About the author

Andrea Cudworth (Mukurtu Midwest Hub Project Assistant) and George Greendeer (Digital Resources Project Specialist) consulting on cataloging Ho-Chunk language materials.

I have worked on the Ho-Chunk Digital Archiving project for three years, first as a student volunteer, and currently as the Mukurtu Midwest Hub Project Assistant. I recently completed my dissertation, Menominee Vowels: Quality, Quantity, and a Hierarchical Model of Representation, to earn a PhD in Linguistics from UW – Madison.