Conservation Officer Vang Yeeleng Lee, the first and only Hmong DNR Conservation Officer received the Lifetime Achievement Award for almost two decades of service, from the Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans at their annual gala on May 20, 2016.
Officer Lee was recruited to join the first group of South-east Asian Conservation Officers in 1998, to help the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources connect the new immigrant hunters and anglers with the new culture, traditions, laws and players in the field. The program was funded by the Minnesota Legislature. Hmong community members enjoying hunting and fishing in Minnesota would often run into misunderstandings and confrontation with other Minnesotans partly because they were not used to the laws, regulations and traditions of Minnesota. For example, in Laos one would not find boundaries between public and private lands like in Minnesota and this in turn could be a serious problem for a Hmong hunter. It is here that Officer Vang Lee played three very critical roles – he helped educate his community on hunting and fishing laws and regulations; served as a mediator in times of conflict; and helped serve as a role model and educator for the next generation of Minnesota’s hunters and anglers.
The success of the program could be evident by comparing Minnesota’s experiences with cultural clashes over hunting and fishing with other states that do not have this community resource. In fact Officer Vang recalls receiving a call from California to help mediate a situation recently.
Officer Vang Lee still remains the only Hmong Conservation Officer in the DNR over the past almost two decades.
Officer Lee is often found in community groups or with young people nurturing their love for the outdoors.
At his celebration was his wife Donna and three kids who also reflected the promise that the next generation of the Hmong community brings to Minnesota. All three of his children are professionals – a software engineer, an attorney and a chemical engineer.