From the Frozen Wind, a Charging Bull Appears

Feb 15th, 2010 | By | Category: 21-3: Tribal College Faculty, Spring 2010, Profiles
By Jerry Worley, Ph.D.

“With the wind chill factor, it was 70 degrees below zero, and we were putting up a tarp to stop the wind from blowing the fire out. How we got those rocks hot enough to go into the [sweat] lodge, I’ll never know,” Assiniboine elder Ron Jackson says, recalling a ceremony in the 1990s when he was given his Indian name.

RON JACKSON

FIGHTING FOR THE KIDS. Jackson has been likened to a bull as he quietly and continuously moves forward, fighting for the kids. Photo courtesy of Jerry Worley

Another Assiniboine leader was conducting the ritual. Jackson did not know that the man was going to name him, but the man said, “I know what you’re doing for our kids.” The name he chose for Jackson was Pte Mnonga Nadambi (Charging Bull). “Since that time, I’ve tried to model that, to do what I can for our students,” says Jackson, 55.

The ceremony took place at a sacred spot on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northeastern Montana – a place just north of the Missouri River the Assiniboine call the o I o wega (buffalo crossing). Jackson has been a school board member for over a decade and the board chairman for most of that time. Because of this service as a community leader, he was acknowledged in the Assiniboine way with a new name. Jackson has been likened to a bull as he quietly and continuously moves forward, fighting for the kids.

Today, Jackson works at Fort Peck Community College (FPCC, Poplar, MT) as a media specialist, but his real impact has been through his work on the Wolf Point School Board, an institution that has been dominated by non-Indians for decades in a community that is approximately 60% American Indian.

Jackson was quickly elected school board chairman; he feels this was because he considers himself “approachable.” Wolf Point High School Principal Joe Paine says, “Ron’s in a very difficult role – he’s dealing with two different communities – but he is willing to work with anybody to do the best for ALL kids.” Paine adds, “Ron is visible. He gets out and into the community where he listens to people and asks people about their thoughts and opinions.”

In recent years the school district has seen some remarkable successes. Most notably, the district increased the graduation rate from 40% to 75% in the past seven years, from 2001 to 2008, according to Paine and statistics from the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

When asked what his biggest challenge has been since becoming the chairman, Jackson replied, “My biggest hurdle is to not let others infringe on one person’s right to speak and listen on a certain issue. Some want to cut off others before the discussion is over.” Jackson pauses and then continues, “But, I think I’m doing the best for these kids by being on this board and making the right decisions.”

Jackson was born on the reservation but grew up in the tough industrial city of Gary, IN; the family moved under the contentious Indian Relocation Act of 1956. Jackson and his family were “the only Indians there,” but luckily for him, he soon found himself back home in 1969 to begin junior high school.

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