DNR officials, Hmong students organize forum

Hoping to curb negative stereotypes about their culture, Hmong students and Department of Natural Resources officials discussed several ways to improve their interactions with the public Friday at Coffman Union.

Hmong leaders said they have noticed a growing amount of negative sentiment toward their culture since a November hunting incident that left six Wisconsin hunters dead.

St. Paul resident Chai Vang was charged in their deaths after allegedly entering a verbal argument over a deer stand in a northwestern Wisconsin forest, authorities said.

By following hunting laws and communicating better on hunting grounds, speakers said, future incidents like this can be avoided.

Approximately 40 people attended the event organized by the Hmong Minnesota Student Association and the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence.

“The event is an opportunity to listen and learn about how to prevent things like this from happening,” said Jenny Xiong, co-education chairwoman of the association. “One person should not represent the whole community.”

Rassacin Ly, activities chairman of the association, said organizers wanted to allow students and the Hmong community to discuss the hunting incident.

Vang Lee, the only Hmong DNR conservation officer in the state, said many people have had misconceptions about Hmong people since the incident.

“Only the individuals involved know the whole story,” Lee said.

He also suggested hunters should never take matters into their own hands and should call a DNR conservation officer.

“That’s what we’re there for,” Lee said. “Whether it’s an issue with harassment or trespassing, don’t fear the officers; our job is to help.”

People can also avoid misunderstandings by communicating better, Lee said. First, try introducing yourself, he said.

Lee and Tong Vang, the DNR liaisons to the Hmong community, said all hunters need to know hunting rules and regulations. It’s the younger Hmong generation’s responsibility to help their parents and older relatives understand the rules, especially those who can’t read English, the speakers said.

“Education helps a lot,” Tong Vang said. “One person cannot teach everyone.”

After the event, several students of the Hmong Minnesota Student Association said they felt a duty to help their culture understand hunting rules. They also said they hope students at the University don’t experience discrimination because of the Wisconsin incident.

“Hmong students at (the University’s Duluth campus) are being racially targeted, and we don’t want it to happen here at the ‘U,’ ” said Zer Vang, an association member.

Though she’s not related to the suspect, she said, she also experienced some prejudice.

“After the incident, my co-worker asked me if I was related to that Hmong hunter. I was very offended,” she said.

Officials said students should have no reservations about hunting if they are knowledgeable of the law.

“As long as you don’t violate the law, you have every right to go hunting,” Lee said. “You have to stand tall and keep a positive attitude in all situations.”

Just to be safe, however, Tong Vang said Hmong people should be cautious of hunting in the same Wisconsin area where the incident occurred.

University student Mohammad El-Sawaf, who did not attend the event, said he is an experienced hunter and Hmong people should have rights to hunting.

“Hunting isn’t something that you just do, it’s a challenge. And if you’re up for that challenge, then go for it,” he said. “But an animal isn’t worth risking people’s lives.”