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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Wisdom from Native American friends

In 1990 President George H.W. Bush signed a resolution designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month. November then is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions and histories and to acknowledge the significant contributions of Indigenous people. I have been blessed to have known many people from various cultures during my seven decades on planet Earth. This past month reminded me how much I have learned from them, especially from my Native American friends.

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John Eggers
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In 1990 President George H.W. Bush signed a resolution designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month. November then is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions and histories and to acknowledge the significant contributions of Indigenous people.

There are currently 574 Federally Recognized Tribes as of January 2022. Approximately 53 tribes no longer exist. There are over 300 languages spoken in the United States. The majority of these are spoken by Indigenous people who are native to the United States.

I have been blessed to have known many people from various cultures during my seven decades on planet Earth. This past month reminded me how much I have learned from them, especially from my Native American friends.

Hank and Marie Smith were White Earth enrolled members. Marie could speak fluent Ojibwe. Hank was a jack of all trades. I don’t think there was anything he couldn’t do or anyone he wouldn’t help. It was a sad day when we left Ponsford and had to leave many friends behind, especially Hank and Marie.

They seem to embody the Native American quote: “May you be strengthened by yesterday’s rain, walk straight in tomorrow’s wind, and cherish each moment of the sun today.” Hank and Marie cherished every day and Kathy and I loved our time with them.

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Adam Lussier was a spiritual leader at Red Lake. I knew him when he served on the school board and when he helped direct the activities of the Red Lake Drug and Alcohol program. He was a great storyteller. When he spoke to the Red Lake faculty about Ojibwe wisdom and culture, he captivated everyone’s attention.

After leaving the principalship at Red Lake, I did some occasional grant writing for Adam and, again, had the opportunity to listen. Adam seemed to be in harmony with everyone and everything. Native wisdom holds, “We all come from one great spirit, and this precious earth is our common mother. Let us walk in harmony.” That was Adam Lussier. What if we all walked in harmony?

Gloria (Missy) Cook served as my high school secretary. I have written about her in several previous columns. She left a void in many hearts. I will never forget Missy as one of the kindest people I have ever met and who was not afraid to speak her mind.

“The bird, the bee, the stone, the tree, the four-legged, the two-legged, the fish in the sea. These are all my relations. They are equal to me.” (Mitakuye Oyasin) This Lakota saying epitomizes what Missy was all about. She made everyone feel important because she realized that we are all equal.

Jerry Buckanaga was director of the Pine Point Experimental School and later served as curriculum director at Red Lake. He was a visionary who realized that if Native Americans were to find success in our schools, dramatic changes had to occur. He was an innovator before his time.

Native educators could use a Jerry Buckanaga today. He would agree that you must make noise to make people listen. We desperately need some noise makers among American Indian educators. “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he dares to lose sight of the shore.” Jerry was not afraid to lose sight of the shore, which takes courage.

Theresa Neadeau and Mary Sayers were ordinary people. They were mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, and both served as cooks at Red Lake High School. On many occasions, I would stop in the kitchen while they were preparing the meals and talk but mostly listen. They were always smiling and had a positive outlook on life. They accepted me for who I was.

Native wisdom says, “Each of us is a vital people’s tapestry; our lives are woven together for a reason. One of the best things to hold onto in this world is a friend.” I will forever cherish the friendship of Theresa and Mary.

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Harland Brent Stone was a student of mine at Pine Point many years ago. Because of Harlan, I dedicate all of my work with Project Graduate to Harlan. I can’t remember Harlan not smiling despite many hardships in life. He was a bright, inquisitive, sometimes quiet, happy-go-lucky boy.

During many fishing outings with Harlan, I learned to know his strength. Chief Dan George said, “May the stars carry your sadness away, may the flowers fill your heart with beauty, may hope forever wipe away your tears and above all, may silence make you strong.” Harlan continues to give me strength.

Those people I mentioned are all gone. They have passed away from this earth. But like so many people you and I have known in our lives, their wisdom continues to be our teacher. As I ponder the wonderful Thanksgiving my family enjoyed, I will forever be thankful for the teachings of my Ojibwe friends.

Riddle: Why do students get lower grades after Thanksgiving? (Answer: Because everything is always marked down after the holidays.) We can all get up again, however, with Native American wisdom.

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John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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