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Getting out of his comfort zone: Bug School grad found his voice

Hunter Jackson is graduating as a member of the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School Class of 2020 on June 18. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)
Hunter Jackson is graduating as a member of the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School Class of 2020 on June 18. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)

BENA — From stuttering and being afraid to speak publicly at the beginning of high school, to speaking in front of a crowd of thousands at the end of his school career, Hunter Jackson found his way out of his shell.

“In the beginning of high school, I used to have a speech impairment where I would stutter a lot,” he said. “It still comes up but that caused me to not be able to speak in front of huge crowds. By the end of my senior year, I had spoken in front of a crowd of 2,000 during one of my UNITY trips.”

Jackson is graduating on Thursday as a member of Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School’s Class of 2020, and after a full high school career, finding his voice and lobbying for change in high school, he is ready for more things to come.

His high school career has brought him all over the country through attending United National Indian Tribal Youth conferences — annual national gatherings for Native American youth.

“I’ve been to over about half the country with UNITY — a Native youth program that goes to different states and we have these huge gatherings of thousands of Native youth — I’ve been to three of them, one in Denver, one in Florida and one in California,” Jackson explained.

According to their website, UNITY’s mission is to foster the spiritual, mental, physical and social development of American Indian and Alaska Native youth, and to help build a strong, unified and self-reliant Native America through greater youth involvement.

Jackson’s proudest accomplishment during high school was being able to break out of his comfort zone, he said. UNITY trips weren’t the only way he did this — in his sophomore year he attended a STEM camp despite his friends dropping out, which left him not knowing anyone in attendance.

While there, he earned college credit from the University of Michigan.

Jackson also was a member of a delegation from Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig earlier this year to Washington, D.C., for the American Indian and Alaska Native Youth Summit. The program provided students from different tribal communities the opportunity to connect with one another in order to create a network of politically active and informed Native youth.

After graduation, Jackson plans to attend United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, N.D. to study computer information technology.

He hopes to work in the information technology field, and his dream job would be working back at the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School.

“I always kind of liked the idea of going back and working for them,” he said.

Despite not owning one himself, Jackson has always been interested in computers and technology, he said. “I know my way around them pretty well,” he added.

His favorite subjects in school are psychology or science. Outside of school, he enjoys kayaking and four-wheeling.

In lieu of a traditional graduation ceremony, Jackson and his classmates will be celebrated during a drive-in commencement at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 18, at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School.