BENA -- Rozalina "Roz" Hunt-Morris hopes to grow young minds at the same place that shaped her own: Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School.
The recent graduate values her cultural heritage and plans to instill those values in future generations of Leech Lakers by obtaining a degree in early childhood education and Indigenous leadership from the Leech Lake Tribal College, with the goal of one day ending up back at the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School.
Hunt-Morris graduated as the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig class of 2021 valedictorian on Thursday, May 27. For her commitment to Anishinaabe heritage, she also received the school's culture award.
“I won that from my huge involvement in cultural activities, along with painting, beading, sewing and creating posters, like advocacy for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women,” Hunt-Morris said.
Hunt-Morris is a jingle dress dancer, and is heavily involved in Ojibwe culture, powwows and dance.
“I'm excited to dance and be with my community again, dance with my family with their new regalia I'm making them,” she said as more powwows take place post-pandemic.
Hunt Morris taught herself a lot of her cultural skills, but said she took an interest in them after attending Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School.
“I didn't really know anything until I came to the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School. I started beading in the fourth grade, and I started sewing about four years ago,” she said. “I'm kind of self-taught. I'm still learning, and always willing to learn more about sewing and beading. I didn't know anything much about my culture at all until I attended Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig, so I'm thankful my grandma enrolled me there.”
She said she has a lot of role models that she looks up to within her community, including friends and family. But most of all, she draws inspiration from her grandmother, Lorena Johnson, who passed away in 2017.
“She influenced me to be a strong person, to take care of myself and others, and to be humble,” she said. “It was just the way she carried herself, I’ll never forget that.”
A large portion of Hunt-Morris’ high school career was spent as an active member of UNITY -- United Native Indian Tribal Youth -- a nationwide organization where she advocated for environmental justice and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women issues.
“It defines who I am today,” Hunt-Morris said of the program. The biggest thing she learned from UNITY was, “community involvement, and taking care of yourself mentally and physically because that's the most important thing you need to take care of other people. Remember where your roots are to be able to carry on your lineage and pass on knowledge to other people,” she said.
Hunt-Morris said her proudest accomplishments so far have been graduating high school and being selected as the Leech Lake senior princess a few years ago.
She hopes to attend Leech Lake Tribal College to study early childhood education and Indigenous leadership and then transfer to a four-year school.
“I want to work on that in college so I can go back to my community and just work here with the kids. I really like working with the youth,” she said. “I want to be able to go back to the Bug school and advise the students of how important it is to have a voice within our community.”