Vanessa Goodthunder is passionate about education and the Dakota language

Vanessa Goodthunder is passionate about education and the Dakota language
Vanessa Goodthunder (Photo credit: Jen Day for the Women’s Foundation of MN)

Vanessa Goodthunder is the director of C̣aƞṡayapi Waḳaƞyeża Owayawa Ṭi (Lower Sioux Children Are Sacred School), a Dakota-Immersion Early Head Start and Preschool. A member of the Lower Sioux Indian Community in Minnesota, a Dakota federally-recognized tribe, Goodthunder, Sna Sna Wiƞ (Snah-Snah Weeƞ), comes from C̣aƞṡayapi (Chahƞ-shah- yah-pee), which means where they paint the trees red. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a bachelor’s in U.S history and American Indian studies-Dakota language, and with a master’s of education. Her passions are education, revitalizing the Dakota language, and working with Native youth.

Goodthunder believes language can be used to heal from historical trauma and has dedicated her life to learning and teaching her native languages (Dakota and Dine). She’s worked with the nonprofit organization Daḳota Wic̣oḣaƞ (Dakota Way of Life) as both a youth participant and later as a language instructor supporting Dakota language curriculum development. She recently was the aide to the chief of staff and Tribal Affairs policy advisor in the Office of Governor Mark Dayton and Lt. Governor Tina Smith.

She was the 2016 Champions for Change through the Center for Native American Youth located in D.C. where she helps raise awareness of Native youth issues as well as advocacy.

C̣aƞṡayapi Waḳaƞyeża Owayawa Ṭi is expected to open this summer as the first Dakota Immersion Early Head Start in the state.

Read what Goodthunder has to say.

What is your company’s mission?
To raise the next generation of Dakota speakers and to promote school readiness by enhancing the social, emotional and cognitive development of the most at-risk children and families.

What is your day-to-day like at work?
Building the foundation [for] the launch of the school with the team through everyday Dakota language, training, new hiring, renovation, program developing, and most importantly, relationship building with community and community partners.

What inspires you to show up at work every day?
Knowing that the work we are putting in each and every day is to set the environment for our community to grow in language and development for years to come.

Vanessa Goodthunder is passionate about education and the Dakota language
Vanessa Goodthunder (Photo credit: Brady Willette for the University of Minnesota Foundation’s Legacy Magazine)

How did you determine your career path?
I grew up going to a horse program from the non-profit Daḳota Wic̣oḣaƞ that taught us how to ride horse and speak the Dakota language to revitalize our language and with it our culture and sovereignty. Here I ended up being a Wiḳoṡka (young women) peer leader when I was in 9th grade that taught 5th-8th graders how to ride and speak. I knew then that teaching was what brought me passion. I learned that our language is powerful and can help heal historical trauma by creating a sense of belonging. At the age of 18, I noticed the fluent speakers around me passing away and with it the language, which is when I dedicated my life to my language. From there, I have been loving each and every moment of this decision.

Describe the voice of success that you hear in your head.
Daḳota oyate kiƞ Daḳota iapi kiƞhaƞ sdodkiyapte. When the Dakota people start speaking their language, then they will know who the are. I say it all the time, the language is a part of who I am and without it I am not whole.

Community success based on what you do in the community means what to you?
That we are all working together to build a better now and future. We are stronger and more successful together.

What role does technology play in your daily life?
Yes, I just turned 24, so I love Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. I post videos of my puppy understanding his commands in the Dakota language, because I am a proud pup-mom. Our tribe has also created an app that helps teach the Dakota language and has made it important to involve the youth when creating these technologies as they are the experts.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I would put more supports out there for indigenous studies, language, and the work put in to include our history, way of life, and voice and then valuing it. I think people speaking the language teaches them our way of life with our worldview, so I would have thousands of people speaking Dakota.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would have infinite amounts of time to get my to-do list done that would open up the time to do everything I want to do in life. #Goals #GoodthunderPowers #OrBeAbleToTeleport

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