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Native American artist visits with Champlin Park High School students studying his work

Jonathan Thunder visits with students at Champlin Park High School(02/08/2024) Students at Champlin Park High School (CPHS) - International Baccalaureate Programme (IB) have been studying the work of Jonathan Thunder, an artist and member of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe, as a part of the English 11 curriculum.

The IB curriculum at CPHS fulfills the state requirements of celebrating the works and voices of the Anishinabe people, where students study both non-literary bodies of work and literary works concerning common themes. Thunder’s work is rich with symbolism and allusions to tribal and Western pop culture. 

“Analyzing texts such as these help to challenge the students to work through critical thinking strategies,” said Georgia Larson, English teacher and IB Career Program Coordinator at CPHS. 

“What we now know is that Jonathan Thunder's life story is symbolic of a rich narrative infused with perseverance and the will to find one's voice,” Larson said. “With a measured tone, Jonathan Thunder tells his story in a way that is both real and palatable for high school students. For him, things are cool just because they are — cool — no deeper meaning intended.   And yet, he uses his art to make a commentary on some things, especially making statements about social issues that matter to him and his community.”

Thunder infuses his lens with real-time world experiences using a wide range of mediums and is known for his surreal paintings, digitally animated films and installations in which he addresses the subject matter of personal experience and social commentary.

For their final assessment in English 11, students must conduct an individual oral presentation with their teacher where they select one extract from a non-literary body of work and another extract from a literary work and analyze the authorial choices of those works in connection with a global issue or theme. Thunder’s work is one of the choices students can use for their non-literary extract. 

On Jan. 31, students took it one step further and heard directly from Thunder, who shared more about his work with students during two presentations in the school’s auditorium. He also took questions from students who were interested in his work, and later he had lunch and met with CPHS students in the district’s American Indian Education program.

View photos from Thunder’s visit to CPHS on Jan. 31.

“I am surprised that my work eventually became something that could be used for teaching,” Thunder said. “It’s probably some of the questions that I ask in my work that are a part of critical thinking. When I create a piece that has socioeconomic or political commentary, I’m asking questions because there are things that I know and things that I don’t know and when you think critically, that’s what you have to do, see things from different perspectives.”

Learn more about Jonathan Thunder and view some of his artwork.