Anishinaabe Teacher Transforms Students

Feb 15th, 2006 | By | Category: 17-3: Heroes of Today, Tribal College News
DAN JONES WITH STUDENTS

BOOZHOO. Defying the assimilationists. Dan Jones shares the Anishinaabe language with many students, such as Sylvia Wise and Michelle Haskins. Photo by Jonathan Chapman Photography

Dan Jones has made the Anishinaabe language his life’s mission. That is why Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FDLTCC) Librarian Nancy Broughton suggested him as a contemporary hero. After being recruited from Canada, Jones has been teaching language and culture classes at the tribal college in Cloquet, MN, since August 1997.

Amongst his people, he is known as Gaagigebines, which means “Everlasting Thunderbird.” He also serves as a spiritual leader and pipe carrier. Jones knew only Anishinaabe until he was removed from his home in Ontario, Canada, at the age of five and sent to residential school. When the little boy spoke his language, the teachers hit his hands with a stick.

Jones believes the pain and humiliation contributed to his teenage rebellion. He tried to drown the loss of self identity with alcohol and drugs. However, he is not one to dwell on past inequities. Instead, he enjoys the irony: Now he is being paid to teach the language. Jones, 46, has been in recovery for 25 years. “The recovery involved a journey toward the drum, the pipe, feathers, tobacco, and other sacred items,” he says.

Broughton says Jones is one of the finest educators she has ever known. In addition to his regular language classes, he teaches a weekly language immersion group open to everyone. Around campus, he’s always smiling and always has a “Boozhoo” (hello) for everyone. His twin brother, Dennis Jones, teaches Anishinaabe at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus.

Culture and language are inextricably linked, he says. You can’t teach about one without teaching the other. “When you learn about language, you learn about yourself. When you learn about yourself, you feel pride about who you are. When you feel good about yourself, you do good things,” he says.

He knows of many students who have been transformed. After arriving on campus feeling lost and confused about their Native heritage, they learn the language and can finally speak with their grandparents. “They feel pride in learning something that is part of them,” he says.

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