Florence Jones - EMBRACE CULTURE | Not in Our Town

Florence Jones - EMBRACE CULTURE

Grade Level: 
Middle School (6-8)
High School (9-12)


Florence Jones (1907-2003) was the spiritual leader and chief healer of the Winnemem Wintu tribe of Northern California. The Wintu have called the McCloud River Watershed near Mount Shasta home for more than 1000 years, but were not provided a reservation as gold miners and pioneers drove them away in the name of industry.

Although the Wintu’s numbers have dwindled from over 14,000 when contact with non-Natives was recorded to only 395, Jones has been at the forefront of a fight to save sacred sites and their way of live.

By learning and teaching to EMBRACE CULTURE, Jones was able to lead the Wintu in a successful bid to block the construction of a ski resort on sacred Wintu land.

This lesson addresses the following Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies. You can have students look for these issues and examine them in themselves.

  • Self-awareness: Even when the Wintu tribe lost their land and had no reservation, Florence Jones remained connected to her roots, remained confident in her cultural history, and preserved her culture. She did not let her position as a woman, as an elder, and as a Native American prevent her from affecting change.
  • Self-Management: At the age of ten, Florence Jones learned to travel the river and be a healer and came into her full leadership position after surviving the oppressive environments of boarding schools.
  • Relationship Skills: Florence Jones rallied the Wintu and their allies to save sacred sites and the  Wintu way of life, despite the fact that their numbers decreased from their original 14,000 at first contact with non-Natives to only 395 at the time of her fight. She worked closely with people from her own community and beyond.
  • Social awareness: Florence Jones learned the story of her people and their cultural practices. She helped them resist assimilation.
  • Responsible decision-making: Florence Jones let her spiritual connections guide her decision-making. She knew when to turn to a higher power and to her community for support.

1.  Prior to showing the video, briefly explain the primary themes of the video. Use some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt):

  • What is culture and how does it affect us? Do you think culture is important? Why or why not?
  • What do you know about the history of Native Americans in the United States?
  • Consider the following terms and define the ones you know: colonization, assimilation and extermination. How have these terms played out in history? How do these terms relate to culture?

2.  After watching the video, engage students in a dialogue about the film using some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt):

  • Consider assimilation and externalization again. Have your perceptions of it changed now that you’ve seen this film? If so, how?  List some of the consequences of assimilation and extermination.
  • What did the film mention about initial European contact with aboriginal people? Why do you think aboriginal people were treated the way they were?
  • Can you think of any spiritual leaders in your community? What is the value of having spiritual leaders? How can society benefit from having spiritual leaders?
  • Florence Jones traveled the whole length of a river on her own when she was ten. List some rites of passage in our culture and society. How do they compare to Florence Jones’ experience?
  • Florence Jones was one of the last fluent speakers of her language. Why do you think language is important? Consider how it relates to culture and tradition.

Extension Activities

1. Have students research the history of colonization in the state and oppression in everyday life (a good resource is Anne Bishop’s “Becoming an Ally”). The following questions will help guide students in writing a critical reflection essay about the two topics:

  • How is colonization a form of oppression?
  • How does oppression come about? How is it held and place? Consider the role of institutions.
  • What are some different forms of oppression? List historical examples.
  • How are different forms of oppression similar and how are they different (e.g., oppression of women, oppression of Native Americans). How do different forms of oppression reinforce each other?
  • What do some scholars and authors suggest we do as individuals and as a society to overcome oppression?

2. Have students recall and write about a rite of passage they experienced (e.g., Bar Mitzvah, school graduation, Quinceanera—15th birthday celebration for Latina girls). Ask them to write a narrative answering the following questions: Who was involved? How did you feel? Was it important or not in your life, or did you regret it?  How did it change things for you? And how was it limited in changing you? Get in a circle and share this free-writing activity. Reflect together on the importance of such passages and consider how they may or may not be limited in our culture.

3. Have students interview an older family member. Have the students develop questions to find out about the other person’s feelings about the family's culture and about preserving their traditions or assimilation. Have the students put their interviews together in a class book or bulletin board display.



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