More Than Words: Jason Jones Translates and Teaches Joy
"It's just been such a wonderful ride, to go down this route of education,” recounts Jason Jones, an Ojibwe language learner and teacher at Fort Frances High School. He belongs to the Lynx clan and is originally from a small community on Rainy Lake. Jones is also a curriculum coordinator, working with TakingItGlobal. With a background in psychology and after spending most of his twenties interviewing elders, he brings a unique perspective to the classroom.
Something else that shifted his perspective was a car accident that kept him from walking for a month when he was 19. “I had that 30 days to think and I was thinking, ‘I want my life to be real. I want it to mean something. I want to do something that's really meaningful,’” he recalls. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do so he started thinking about his passions.
In high school, he was the captain of the volleyball team and was offered university scholarships to keep playing. As an athlete, he learned about hard work. Jones also learned to outwork his younger brother who was taller than him and could beat him in every race. Working hard helped him to be competitive.
Motivated by the teachings of his elders to find work that reflected his life purpose and wanting to do things that didn’t feel like work, he dedicated himself to studies that would allow him to inspire youth and help them. His parents were Ojibwe language teachers but as residential school survivors, they didn’t speak their language in their home. That’s how he missed out on learning the language growing up, even though he was raised by language teachers.
“There's so much value that's inside of language and culture. You probably won't understand it right away like I didn't, but try to take it all in and remember it.”
His language learning journey taught him more than words. “Our ancestors thought seven generations ahead, and they've jam packed our language with so many teachings and so many ways that we could learn. They left that gift for us,” he beams. “My thinking is a lot different now, just from learning language,” Jones continues. His values shifted from the material to community care and helping others from the lessons he learned.
At the beginning of his language journey, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life and asked his dad for advice. He wanted to work with the youth and also to learn his language and share it with others. His dad suggested he teach Ojibwe at the elementary school level and Jones got excited, focusing even more on learning his language.
"If you work really hard, you don't really have to look for a job because the jobs will come looking for you. If you get that reputation as a hard worker, people will actually look for you to hire."
At 25, he was offered a job as a half-time language teacher and he spent the rest of his time creating his own language curriculum. At the time, there weren’t a lot of resources available. For years Jones worked hard creating curriculum until he started to burn out. He learned a hard lesson about mental health.
These days as a teacher, he’s motivated young language learners who want to learn more, driven by the impact he can see and the progress communities are making in language revitalization. Most of all, he’s inspired by working together with other language learners. “We're always motivating each other, and we're uplifting each other. That's what I like about this next generation,” he explains.
He knows learning new things can be hard, remembering when he was anxious about relocating to Manitoulin Island for an opportunity he heard about in an Ojibwe magazine: getting paid to learn about traditional medicines. For a year, he was away from home, learning from elders, picking medicines and helping people. “That's where I learned that helping people was something that I wanted to do. It makes me happy,” he reminisces.
Thinking about youth who also want to go out into the world and learn but are nervous, he remembers how shy he is and how much he has struggled with that. Jones encourages youth to be themselves, find their purpose and seek out growth opportunities, which can sometimes be uncomfortable. “You learn so much about yourself as you start experiencing life and going out to different places,” he relays, acknowledging homesickness can be hard but worth it to move in the direction of happiness.
In moving towards happiness himself, he’s made his share of mistakes and learned they are just opportunities to learn. Eager to learn his language, he realized how few people shared his enthusiasm and he came to see himself as a trailblazer, doing his own thing because it made him happy, not for the glory.
Social anxiety was another thing he struggled with, as well as burnout and depression. Going back to traditional ways of self care and mental wellness was helpful for his recovery and finding ways not to overwork himself. With that knowledge, he’s better able to help his students by sharing his story and the lessons he’s learned along the way.
Even though he’s a teacher, he’s always learning. That’s why he introduces himself as both an Ojibwe teacher and language learner. “If I say that I taught myself Ojibwe, that means I'm at the end of it, and I'm not even at the end of it. I feel like I'm at the start of it, actually. That gives me the ability to just keep going and helping,” he reflects.
If he could share a message with his younger self it would be to just be himself and that he doesn’t have to conform to do what everyone else is doing. He would tell his younger self to find what makes him happy so he could learn that lesson a lot sooner. Attending sweats, driving in the bush, spending time in nature, and remembering how he was made by the Creator just like everything else in nature are all things that make him happy. He likes to live off the land, eat well, spend time with elders and keep seeking his happiness.
In his journey towards joy, Jason Jones has been on a wonderful ride going down a road of education. He’s a language teacher who has learned more than words, a helper with a happy heart, and a catalyst for youth empowerment to learn language and culture. He looked inside to see what made him happy, and now others get to find lessons in the way he shines.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.