Vanessa Goodthunder: More to a Language

Vanessa Goodthunder

Vanessa Goodthunder (BA ‘16, American Indian studies and history) found herself engaging with her community and home when learning her language during her time here at CLA. Now, as a Director of a Dakota immersion school, she teaches the next generation of Dakota language speakers, and becomes a recipient of the Emerging Alumni award. 

What do you do professionally?

C̣aƞṡayapi Waḳaƞyeża Owayawa Oṭi ed ḣtawani. Owayawa Oiṭaƞc̣aƞ hemac̣a. I am the Director at C̣aƞṡayapi Waḳaƞyeża Owayawa Oṭi (The Lower Sioux Children are Sacred School), a birth-5 Year old Dakota immersion school. 

How are you involved in the community?

I teach the Dakota language, sit on education committees, and participate in community activities/events. 

How did your time in CLA inspire you to pursue your path?

It helped me learn my Dakota language. It gave me the “leisure to study” as one professor said to help me strengthen and grow the teacher inside of me to be the best I can be for my students, the families, and the community. 

What is your favorite memory from your time as a student?

Making lifelong friends. Eating at Shuang Cheng. Going to the Circle of Indigenous Nations and the American Indian Student Culture Center. Being able to speak at a rally against the Washington Football Team’s mascot all in the Dakota language. Being able to teach students at Roosevelt High School. I love those students who are now amazing adults. 

What advice would you give to current CLA students?

Bdihec’iyapi (gather your strength to continue on/term of encouragement). Wauƞṡida yuha manipi (walk with compassion- for yourself and for others).

How do you spend your free time? What "fills your cup"?

Going on walks with my dogs Bently and Maḣpiya. Watching K-Dramas. Looking up and trying new recipes with my husband. Traveling. Playing volleyball and kickball. 

What was your reaction to receiving this award?

I was in shock. I didn’t know CLA knew me post-grad and felt seen, happy, and completely honored. Pidamaya (thank you).

What's next? What are your personal/professional goals for the next five years?

Professionally, we will be growing our school to ages birth-4th grade to raise the next generation of Dakota language speakers. With 5 first language speakers left in the State of Minnesota, we are in a race to remember, reclaim, and reconnect our language and culture. Waƞna iyehaƞtu (now is the time). Continue Lower Sioux’s 10-Year Education Plan to kindle, build, and sustain our Education for the tribe. Personally, continue to grow my two ṡuƞka, dogs up in Dakota. Have children and raise the next Dakota Iapi speaker and Dine (Navajo) speaker. Continue to enjoy life and help others do so too. 

This story was edited by an undergraduate student.

Edited by Jennifer Nguyen

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