oral history defines who we are. Our language comes from the Creator
as a gift to us as a people, and we are the original people of
the Western Hemisphere. We have an oral history maintained by
the language," says John Poupart of West Saint Paul, president
of the American Indian Policy Center and facilitator for the Dakota-Ojibwe
Language Revitalization Alliance (DOLRA), one of the few statewide
indigenous language revival efforts in the United States. He has
worked there since 1994.
Thursday, August 27, at a special ceremony in Minneapolis, John
Poupart will receive the McKnight Foundation's Virginia McKnight
Binger Award in Human Service, along with five other nominees
. The award is given annually to individuals who selflessly serve
has worked for the past 40 years to strengthen American Indian communities
through organizations such as the American Indian Policy Center.
As facilitator for DOLRA, Poupart works to preserve the oral tradition
and sacred texts of the Dakota-Ojibwe, bringing together youth,
public school staff, linguists, and American Indian Elders to conserve
the stories and traditions of the culture.
depend on our older people to retain and pass on to the younger
generation all of this knowledge that we have," he says. "Stories
are very important to our identity. In any society, identity is
really important. In my personal life, I've grown to appreciate
that more and more."
to Poupart, cultural identity is something the American Indian community
is quickly losing in a progressively more materially driven world.
The culture struggles to retain traditional values in a society
that operates in contradiction to its core belief system. Poupart
calls this erasure of the American Indian identity an extension
of "manifest destiny," aided by the work of social institutions
that try to "fix people that aren't broken."
have the highest in infant mortality rate, we have the highest in
drop out rates, we have the highest unemployment rates of any group
... our survival is very much challenged by the social institutions
of the world," he says.
up in Lac du Flambeau Indian reservation in Wisconsin, Poupart experienced
these problems first hand. He struggled to conform to a Judeo-Christian
based social system that rejected the traditions and beliefs of
the Ojibwe. Feeling discarded from society, Poupart spent much of
his youth battling alcoholism and spent a period of time in prison.
Virginia McKnight Binger Awards Since 1985, The McKnight Foundation
has given annual Virginia McKnight Binger awards to Minnesotans
who demonstrate the difference one person can make in helping
others. The awards are named for the Foundation's former chair
and president, Virginia McKnight Binger, who served for nearly
50 years as a board member, as president from 1974 through 1987,
and then as honorary chair until her death in 2002. This year's
award recipients are: Nancy Guenette of Minneapolis, Mohamed
Hassan Osman of Columbia Heights, Ken Porwoll of Roseville,
John Poupart of West Saint Paul, Linda Riddle of Duluth, and
Rene Tomatz of Hibbing.
a child there was a coercive, almost destructive, influence by the
schools and churches to deny my Indian heritage and identity. And
that really caused a lot of problems for me," Poupart says. "Alcoholism,
crime, delinquency, dropping out of school ... the first half of
my life was a total disaster because I was listening to all these
external voices and people and direction. I was always trying to
be what other people wanted me to be, and I could never do that
very well. I consistently failed again and again."
to Poupart, "coming to grips" with his Ojibwe identity
and finding spiritual solutions from his culture is what led him
out of a life of homelessness and chemical dependency, ultimately
empowering him to help other American Indians. After getting his
GED, Poupart went on to start his college education. He received
a B.A in criminal justice administration from the University of
Minnesota in 1977 and after being awarded a fellowship from the
Bush Foundation, received a master's degree from Harvard University
in public administration in 1980.
learned from all this failure about who I was by going back to my
roots and traditional ways," he said. "I came to understand that
there were three things I needed to do; I had to quit drinking,
I had to find a job- full-time and I had to finish my education."
graduating from Harvard, Poupart worked in the Minnesota Department
of Corrections from 1970 until 1994, developing the first program
in the nation that advocates for American Indian offenders. He is
also the author of an extensive list of publications and reports
on various issues within the American Indian community.
remains dedicated to helping others in the American Indian community
to find solutions and strength within their heritage, and to pass
along the sacred traditions and knowledge of his culture.
thing for me to come to grips with is to create a place for other
people to talk about they're issues and to find strength within
themselves," he says. "There's an old Indian saying, Respect
your brother's vision,' and I respect my brother's vision."
Evert (email firstname.lastname@example.org) is a journalism student at the University
Copyright: ©2009 Jaclyn Evert