Relating To The Land – DNR Public Land Sales Help Hmong Family Connect To Cultural Heritage
By Mollie Gudim, Information Officer, DNR Lands and Minerals Division
Public land sales are more than transactions. For one Hmong family, the opportunity to purchase parcels of land from the DNR is a chance to connect to their cultural heritage and honor traditions tied to nature. “Hmong people are independent and self-sufficient, but we will always need nature,” said Tong Xiong, who immigrated to Minnesota from a refugee camp.
Prior to emigrating from Southeast Asia, generations of Hmong people lived in the mountains of Laos, responsibly using land for agriculture and farming. Water was a spiritual element used for healing. “I was brought up on the teachings of my elders who lived from the land to sustain themselves,” said Xiong, who vowed to own private land so that his family’s lifestyle in Minnesota would remain deeply rooted in the natural elements of Hmong culture.
Fortunately, the DNR’s Land Sale program made it possible for Xiong to purchase parcels of state land that no longer met the agency’s conservation, recreation or economic goals, but helped his family find a sustainable way to continue the traditional agrarian lifestyle of harvesting crops and hunting big game. In recent years, Xiong has purchased state land in northern and southern Minnesota. “I’m very thankful to the DNR for helping us grow a family-owned land base,” he said, adding that the plan is to build a hunting camp and plant vegetable gardens on the property.
Hmong culture is centered around family, and once they resettled in Minnesota, Xiong spent a lot of time in nature helping his father and uncle gather food for their table. English is his fourth language, and it was difficult to understand the rules of hunting on public land.
“We relied on relatives who came to Minnesota before us to show us where we could hunt and fish,” he said. Today, owning private land also means that the family’s older generations – and younger ones, too – can access nature easily and without barriers.
“By design, DNR’s mission is a reflection of the natural environment’s linkage between many values, traditions, and livelihoods,” said Andrea Johnson, land sale coordinator for the Lands and Minerals Division. “The Xiong family’s success is just one example of the important role that public land sales can play in creating unique opportunities for all people to reap the physical, emotional, and cultural benefits of nature.”
Now that he’s older and his children are grown, Xiong knows that buying public land is part of leaving a legacy. “Our land will help the next generation appreciate the Hmong way of life,” he said.