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Woodlands Indian finds place to learn among Plains Indian People
2 February 2005

UTN - Tony Ammann is living out the dream of his late grandfather, Archie Mosay.

      "He was the last traditional Anishinabe leader and medicine man in our community," says Ammann. "He had no formal education. But he knew that for Indian people to better themselves and have equality, education was needed."

Tony Ammann

      Ammann had been out of school 14 years before enrolling at United Tribes Technical College (UTTC). At age 42, he fits the definition of an older-than-average student. He'd attended a technical college before, worked as a truck driver, and drove a school bus.

      "I had the worst route. It had the rowdiest kids who put drivers through the wringer. The other drivers couldn't handle it," he said. "But before I finished, it was the best bus route of all."

      That was in the tiny woodlands communities of Balsam Lake and Big Round Lake - population about 175 - in Polk County, near Hertel, Wisconsin. He picked up the values and interests of his extended family, including his grandparents, uncles and parents, on the St. Croix Reservation, located about 75 miles northeast of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Ammann is a member of the St. Croix Tribe of Ojibway (he prefers to use the word Anishinabe, meaning 'the people' in the tribe's language, rather than Ojibway or Chippewa). The tribe does not have its own tribal college; he's in his first year studying Tribal Management at UTTC.

      "I was going to take up food and nutrition, but Tribal Management caught my interest," he said. "An education in Tribal Management seems useful to anyone with the inclination to help their tribe."

      Before coming to Bismarck, Ammann spent two-and-one-half years getting another kind of education. He worked at an inner city, evangelical church in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

      "Winnipeg is second to Los Angeles in its number of Indians in a concentrated urban population," he said. "Between 60-thousand and 90-thousand Indians are there. The majority are Algonquin."

      Working with a food giveaway program, he built relationships with people and earned their respect. Most came from isolated reserves in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario, with no previous experience, no opportunities, and no schooling.

      "Hitting the big city is a shock for Indians," he said. "Lots of them turn to prostitution, alcohol and solvent abuse."

      "We had problems on the reservation at home but I hadn't seen that one before," he said. "Ours were tame by comparison. It was an eye-opening experience."

      Learning about hardships and realities in urban life gained him a new understanding and broader perspective, qualities that characterize older students. Now, away from the woodlands of St. Croix, he refers to himself as a "Woodlands Indian among the Plains Indian People."

      "I'm interested in the history of how Anishinabe people fared when they came out to the Plains," he said.

      He did a research paper on the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa leader Little Shell. He says it would be interesting to intern at the Trenton Service Area, near Williston, ND, where the descendants of Little Shell live.

      By chance, another member of the St. Croix Tribe is also at United Tribes. Russell Swagger, the college dean of student and campus services, hails from the same community. Although the two didn't know each other - Swagger came to Bismarck as student 16 years ago and later earned a leadership position on the college staff - they know plenty of the same people and families at home. The two are St. Croix's ambassadors on the lengthy roster of tribes represented each year in the UTTC student population.

      "I had the honor of presenting him with an award for perfect attendance in his first semester," said Swagger. "He also made the President's List with a 3.5 GPA."

      During his first term studying tribal management, Ammann worked on the North Dakota Tribal Voter Education Project. He helped educate tribal voters about changes in the voting process and voter rights. He helped motivate them to turn out for the November General Election.

      "Indian people can be a voice in politics," he said. "Times have changed and voting is the most important way to change things."

      The voter project allowed him to meet people and get acquainted on campus and in the community.

      Bismarck-Mandan is a good place, somewhat slower paced than big cities, he says. And it appears that North Dakota does well for Indian people, compared with other places. "Seems to be a lot of open-minded, fair-minded people out here."

      He particularly admires the dedication of staff members, who continually extend themselves for the betterment of students.

      "I've found that education puts structure into your life. I don't know if all students realize that," he said. "With that comes the knowledge of things and building character."

      Ammann has never married and has no children. He has a sister who attends Harvard University pursuing a master's degree in education, specializing in tribal language. He says he makes a point to be disciplined and punctual and very faithful to completing things for the long term.

      If he has anything close to an obsession it's living a healthy lifestyle. He's been alcohol free for 21 years. Doesn't smoke. And works out almost every day on the stair-stepper machine at the UTTC Athletic Center.

      "I don't have diabetes. If you stay in shape you don't have to worry about that."

      Although he believes that he'll go back to Wisconsin he says he would follow a path elsewhere if needed, before going back home. It might be for more schooling; he finds the paralegal field interesting.

      "I don't know what I'll be," said Ammann. "I'd like to go home and work on some things for the tribe. I'm not being presumptuous or arrogant, but I believe I have something to offer."

      Something to offer the people of St. Croix - that would be what his grandfather had in mind.

 

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