Q&A with Andi Cloud, Madison Public Library’s First Native American Storyteller-in-Residence

From October through December, Andi Cloud served as the first Madison Public Library (MPL), WI, Native American Storyteller-in-Residence. Cloud, an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, grew up in Black River Falls, WI. Her residency combined virtual and in-person events, including interactive storytelling, guest speaker Zoom events, art workshops, activity kits, and story times.

Andi Cloud standing in front of Madison PL signageFrom October through December, Andi Cloud served as the first Madison Public Library (MPL), WI, Native American Storyteller-in-Residence. Cloud, an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, grew up in Black River Falls, WI. She attended the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, earning a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies and Political Science and a Master of Education–Professional Development degree. She has worked in education and for her tribal government and served on various Ho-Chunk boards and task groups.

Cloud’s residency combined virtual and in-person events, including interactive storytelling, guest speaker Zoom events, art workshops, activity kits, and story times. Grab-and-go Mini Maker Kits, created in collaboration with the Bubbler at MPL, changed each month along with Cloud’s themes. Displays in branches during Cloud’s residency showed traditional dress and regalia, and a Ho-Chunk flag hung on the lower level at Central Library. Book displays were also featured at library locations.

LJ caught up with Cloud shortly before the end of the residency to find out more about her experience.

LJ: What’s your background? Were you always interested in storytelling?

Andi Cloud: I’m a Ho-Chunk, which is one of the 11 recognized tribes in the state of Wisconsin. Growing up, there were always ceremonies that I’d be a part of, and still [am] today. Learning our ways, how we take care of different things, nurtured me. I grew up mostly around my mom’s family, in a single parent household. I have two uncles on my mom’s side and my grandpa, who just passed away about four years ago. Those guys were the male figures in my family, and they have been wonderful.

My grandma—“Gaga” in Ho-Chunk—recited stories to us as kids when we were little. They were typical bedtime stories, like “The Three Bears,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and she changed things, like—it’s supposed to be porridge, she changed that to oatmeal, so we would understand the storyline, growing up in a Ho-Chunk village. I really soaked that in and gravitated toward it. In high school I loved public speaking, talking, meeting new people.

My godfather was a Vietnam veteran, and when I graduated high school, he gave me and my brother an eagle feather. To get an eagle feather, you have to earn it. It’s a very high honor. Only veterans can give them out. So that spoke volumes to me of how he thought of us. Then when I got my bachelor’s and I graduated, he summoned me again, and he gave me another feather. He [said], every time you graduate, you’re going to get get a feather. All these people around me, my elders and the people that I look up to, and their stories, those really helped me [be] the storyteller that I have become.

It’s just been “right place, right time.” We were at a medicine feast—it takes place in the coldest months of the year, so probably January, February, March. We have, in our culture, what’s called the medicine lodge. It’s a society; you can get asked to be in it or you can buy your way in. My uncle Dana got into the society, and after you join, for the next four years you have to have a medicine feast. It’s an all-night thing. And one of the nights that we were having his medicine feast, one of the elders in his group was sitting at the table, and I just happened to be sitting by him. He told the story about the Dog Star, Sirius. He [said], “When we have these things at this time of year, you know why we have them?” And I [said] no. And he [said], “We have them because that Dog Star, it’s the closest to earth in the wintertime. And the Ho-Chunks believe that that’s where our ancestors are, that’s where they go—they’re on that star. So when that star is closest to the earth, that’s when they can hear our stories. They can hear the things that we’re doing right now.” That always stuck with me.

Learning things like that, it doesn’t all come all at once to you. You get them in in bits and pieces as you move on your journey.

How did you connect with the library?

This past summer, I was reading our tribal newspaper, the Hocak Worak. They were calling for applications for a storyteller, and I thought, oh my gosh, this would be so much fun. They wanted a program, what you would want to do if you got the residency, so I put something together. I wanted to be inclusive of all the tribes of Wisconsin, so that’s what I did—I picked stories from each of these tribes. In August, the library reached out to me and said, “You’ve been selected.” They told me, “We’re just going to focus on Ho-Chunk [stories] for this residency.”

What have you covered during your residency?

The theme of the residency was “Ho-Chunk Through Story,” and there were three parts. The first part was where I talked about our origin story. We originated here just outside of Green Bay, a place called the Red Banks. It’s on the banks of Lake Michigan. In our origin story, it says that we walked out of these waters and landed on the Red Banks. In Ho-chunk, it’s called Mogasuc. I had a little piece in there about our Ho-Chunk constitution that was ratified in 1994, and I asked JoAnn Jones—she’s a veteran and she’s one of our elders, she was our first chairperson. I’ve known her for a long time, and I really respect her. She’s a trailblazer. I asked her if she could tell her story—all our events have been virtual—and she said yes. Everybody was very interested and had a lot of questions for her.

The second part was “The Wayz.” I wanted to touch on the warrior society aspect of our culture because the warrior, the veteran, the soldier, their stature is very high. They’re the only ones that can have eagle feathers. They’re the only ones that can wear the color red or own anything that’s red. We have a Medal of Honor recipient who’s Ho-Chunk, and his name is Corporal Mitchell Red Cloud. We touched on him during Veteran’s Day. Another thing that we talked about was the harvest and foraging that our people did, and continue to do. They plant and dry corn for the winter months; maple syrup harvest in the spring. I pick milkweed, or “mahic” in Ho-chunk. You pick it, you rinse all the bugs out of it, and then you freeze it and put it in a soup.

The last part was “The Life.” There’s a biography, Mountain Wolf Woman: A Ho-Chunk Girlhood, focusing on her and the way that she lived. And at the very end was my story, how I grew up Ho-Chunk, the different events in my life that are related to the culture.

Did the library provide programming to go along with the stories?

We’ve had four guest speakers who have all appeared through Zoom. I started in October, so it was still kind of warm here, and we had outdoor story times for the children. The first was the story about our clans—we have 12 clans. One more story time was a book that I wrote—it’s not printed or published, it’s just a manuscript—called Migizi. It’s an Anishinaabe word—it means eagle.

We’ve had arts and crafts: we just had basketmaking, and before that we had mini-moccasin making that I led. The end one [was] beadwork, making a simple pin. We had a medallion hunt; that was not really Ho-chunk, but in my family that’s the thing that we do during Easter, so I wanted to bring that to Madison.

The public library has been so gracious with their supplies and help and support. We had maker kits for the children, a harvest walk—60 people came, I wasn’t expecting that at all. It was about a 10-minute-long walk, and it talked about the various harvests that we have—wild rice, milkweed, maple syrup—all those things were highlighted.

What kinds of reactions did you get from patrons?

People are thirsty for this knowledge, and they have questions about the Ho-Chunk culture. I’ve been trying to answer all the questions to the best of my ability. I think this program is very pertinent to the times we are in now, because there are a lot of people who really don’t look at Indigenous tribes as being relevant and present. They think of us as more historic—if you can’t see it, it doesn’t really exist, we’re history. I hope people are learning that all these Indigenous tribes are different in their own way. They have their own stories, their own languages, their own ways, their own life.

Hopefully this program will continue so that maybe a Red Cliff Band member or a Mole Lake, or Stockbridge-Munsee, or Menominee, one of their storytellers, can do this next year and we can get more awareness out there. What I’ve been seeing from people is a genuine interest, questions being asked. I’ll answer any question. It’s a safe space. I’m willing to help you learn.

What’s next for you?

I really want to get this book published. And I craft—I want to learn how to make baskets, and ribbon shirts would be nice.

I have requests from different organizations around the city that have asked me to come and speak and tell stories at their events. That’s been a surprise, but I’ll come and talk because this is our homeland, this is the land that we’re from, and I think our best way to represent it is to share how we think and who we are in our ways. It’s nice when organizations give us an opportunity to shed light on our own stories and our lives as Ho-Chunk people, as Indigenous people.

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Lisa Peet


Lisa Peet is Executive Editor for Library Journal.

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