Ho-Chunk Andi Cloud at the Madison Public Library: A Journey Towards Self

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Andi Cloud will be giving storytelling sessions as well as beading and other craft workshops now until December 18.

By Jonathan Gramling

It seems that Andi Cloud, who will be the storyteller-in-residence at the Madison Public Library through December 18, has been on the road to self-discovery most of her life while fulfilling her duties as s Ho-Chunk daughter and granddaughter. Cloud grew up in the Black River Falls area and earned her undergraduate degree from UW-La Crosse. And then she hit the road.

“I just travelled and went to Montana and then went out east to New York and Pennsylvania,” Cloud said. “I came back and continued my education. I got my master’s in education. I then went out and lived in Utah for a bit and taught a little bit out there. That was a lot of fun. I went up north to Montana. I don’t know. I would always come back to Montana. I love the state. First I was in Helena and then Missoula. I think I like Missoula better. I was thinking on going back, perhaps in a couple of years. It will probably be Bozeman at that point. We’ll see what happens.”

While in Montana, Cloud’s grandfather, her cooka, had a stroke and lost his sight in one eye and so she came back to Wisconsin. Some of his care fell on her shoulders as a granddaughter.

 

“He was always driving around on the back roads,” Cloud said. “We knew his schedule. He would leave early like 7:30-8 a.m. and then he wouldn’t come back until 1 p.m. He wasn’t taking his rides, so I think he was getting a cabin fever because he would be on the road every day. When he had his stroke, they took his license away because he was blind in that one eye. One saying in being Ho-Chunk is that the grandkids take care of the grandparents. That is one of our jobs. I felt the need. I said, ‘I’ve got to come home.’ I came back and most days, I was his driver. We would drive around the back roads. We would do stuff that he would always do. It was just really nice. I got to know him way better than before. He passed away about four years ago now.”

Cloud then moved to De Pere to live with her sister and help take care of her kids. Cloud also did beadwork that that took her around to the different craft fairs. But she has been somewhat grounded since COVID-19 came.

When she saw the announcement that the Madison Public Library was looking to hire a storyteller-in-residence for two months, Cloud jumped at the chance. While she doesn’t have formal training as a storyteller, Cloud is a travel and one learns to tell one’s story while on the road. And she grew up being told the stories of the Ho-Chunk people.

“My grandma would actually put us to bed and recite stories,” Cloud recalled. “That’s how she got us to go to sleep. I’ve always remembered that. In this culture, being a Ho-Chunk, your family is really close-knit. The kinship is even more intricate and compressed, but it is also that close-knit where you get the togetherness and it takes on a whole new meaning. It’s not just the immediate family. It’s the extended family. That extended family in Ho-Chunk is not extended. That’s your family. You have your moms. Mom travels and uncles travel. The title of grandpa and grandma travels to a wider area of family. I think that was very important growing up that way. And then there were the stories. The stories came in bits here and bits there. Obviously in my own life’s experience, being Ho-Chunk and understanding and learning what that meant was finding myself in those stories.”

Storytelling happens in the wintertime by tradition when there was no harvesting or hunting to do. Members of the tribe would come together and the elders would tell stories that would speak to the creation story and the values and meaning of being Ho-Chunk.

“You just hear them in the wintertime,” Cloud said. “I was working at an event. It’s in the coldest months. It was like January and early February. And Preston Thompson who has passed away now, he was one of the clan leaders at one time. I was talking to him. We were sitting at a table. I think he was getting through with his meal. And he talked about the spirits, the Dog Star, he said. What he said was we tell these stories in the winter because our ancestors who have passed on are on the Dog Star. That’s where they are. When it’s wintertime, a branch falls and it cracks because it is so cold, that’s the time. That is when the Dog Star is closest too us. Our ancestors can hear our stories. I was just in awe. It was a shortened story, obviously. But I always think about that, his story to me. And I don’t know if anyone else around me heard it because we were talking, but he was talking loud enough that if you were eavesdropping, you would have gotten it. I don’t know if that was just for me in that moment. But I have that now in my pocket. And I shared it with you. And I think you are probably the second person I ever shared that story with. You learn these things more by happenstance. It’s not really planned. You hear the stories from elders when they are ready. You have to wait for them. You can’t push them.”

Cloud will relating the stories as well as have workshops on beading, basket weaving and other craft skills at Madison Public libraries until December 18.

“When I was thinking about what I wanted the program to look like, I wanted it to be an all age kind of thing, from youth to young adults to adults to the elders,” Cloud emphasized. “I want it to have something for everyone. That’s what the Indigenous way is about. There is something for everyone. It’s all inclusive. So we have story times that are happening. We have scavenger hunts that will be happening at the various libraries. We have crafts that I am doing. Tonight, I’m going to be doing a mini-moccasin-making class. I do my beadwork. And then I have Kim Crowley who is going to come in and do a black ash basket. It’s in the middle of November. We have arts and crafts. And we have virtual events where we will have speakers. The first speaker was Anne Thundercloud. She opened it up for us with a little umbrella of what is Ho-Chunk. She went into the clans, where we are right now, the origin story and then us meeting Jean Nicolet on the banks of Lake Michigan.”

Explore the world of the Ho-Chunk Nation through the eyes of Andi Cloud and the elders who have passed on the stories through her. While Madison sits on the Ho-Chunk land DeJope, few know their rich and courageous journey. Take the journey with Andi Cloud.

To learn more about Ando Cloud’s residency, visit https://www.madisonpubliclibrary.org/events/special-series/storyteller.