Talking with Hmong Americans about Their Culture and Use of Public Lands
A story cloth is a traditional Hmong method to depict their history. This story cloth shows the Hmong fleeing their villages in Laos from North Vietnamese soldiers, crossing the Mekong River, and entering refugee camps in Thailand by the Lu Vang family of Minneapolis, Minnesota (image courtesy of University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Chalmer Davee Library).
Public land managers and people who make public policies need to understand the cultures and perspectives of ethnic minority communities in order to serve them effectively. But gaining this understanding is often difficult and complex. Cultural and language barriers can limit communication and understanding on both sides.
This research on Hmong Americans, one of the least-studied and least-understood Asian ethnic groups in the United States, received the 2009 U.S. Forest Service Chief’s Honor Award for Promoting Recreation.
The Hmong people have lived in China for thousands of years but some migrated over recent centuries to lands in Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar. During the Vietnam War, the C.I.A. recruited Hmong living in remote parts of Laos to fight against North Vietnam. After the war, the Laos government collapsed and many Hmong eventually fled to the United States in search of a new homeland. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 170,000 Hmong Americans living mainly in California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, although this is likely to be a substantial undercount.
Hmong culture centers around family, responsibility to others in the community, and connections with the natural world. Hmong Americans are often strongly committed to preserving their culture and traditions while living in the United States. This includes the practice of hunting and fishing in large groups.
We held focus groups with Hmong Americans about their use of public lands. Participants discussed their positive and negative personal experiences with using public lands, and their interactions with land managers and other recreationists. Suggestions from participants included having cultural awareness training for land managers and offering hunting safety training for new refugees.
The focus group research helps public land managers understand the particular cultural background and needs of Hmong American recreationists. Other ongoing projects are focusing on Hmong gathering of non-timber forest products and use of traditional Hmong folk tales in conservation education.
Bengston, David N.; Schermann, Michele A.; Moua, MiaKia; Lee, Tou Thai 2008. Hmong Americans and public lands in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In: Weber, Samantha; Harmon, David, eds. Rethinking protected areas in a changing world: Proceedings of the 2007 GWS Biennial Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites. Hancock, MI: The George Wright Society: 30-35.
Bengston, David N.; Schermann, Michele A. 2008. Hmong Americans: Issues and strategies related to outdoor recreation. In: Allison, Maria; Schneider, Ingrid (eds.), Diversity and the Recreation Profession: Organizational Perspectives (rev. ed.). State College, PA: Venture Publishing.
Bengston, D. N.; Schermann, M.; Moua, M.; Lee, T. T. 2008. Listening to neglected voices: Hmong and public pands in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Society & Natural Resources 21(10): 876-890.
- David N. Bengston, Research Forester, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station
- Michele Schermann, University of Minnesota, Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering
- Tou Thai Lee, University of Minnesota, Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering
- MaiKia Moua, University of Minnesota, Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering
Last Modified: 10/20/2010