A Gift to One: A Gift to Many

The 1992 documentary, A Gift to One, a Gift to Many will be a gift for many years to come thanks to a recent project by the Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives & Special Collections. 

Technology seems to change quickly these days, which means keeping up with new media formats and the long-term preservation of old media.   VHS tapes were introduced to the world in the mid to late 1970s which means that they are almost 50 years old. Archivist Shana Aue explains that footage from these early years is “particularly fragile because it usually exists in the form of VHS tapes and other magnetic media, which were not created for long-term storage and tend to break down and become ‘unplayable’ in just a few decades.”   

The 1992 documentary, A Gift to One, A Gift to Many: James Jackson Sr., Ojibwe Medicine Man documents the life and work of James “Jimmy” Jackson Sr., a renowned Fond du Lac Ojibwe healer. Until recently the documentary existed on only a handful of VHS and DVD copies. Given the age of the documentary and the scarcity of VHS players, there was concern that this culturally important documentary wouldn’t be available for future generations. Aue stated that archives staff receive “multiple requests for the documentary each year, but every year it’s more difficult for people to find a way to watch it.”  

The documentary is now stored on UMedia, the online repository for the Archives & Special Collections which is designed for digital preservation. 

Who was James “Jimmy” Jackson, Sr.? 

Jimmy Jackson, (b - 1992), was a respected practitioner of Fond du Lac Ojibwe medicine and an important community and spiritual leader. Many people in our region and beyond were impacted by his life and work. At about age thirty-two, Jackson started using his gift to heal people, work he continued to do for over five decades. He saw people from all over the United States and Canada for healing as well as naming ceremonies. Jackson was a firm believer that Ojibwe people need their culture and their language in order to lead healthy lives. He made a dedicated effort to share all that he knew, especially with the next generation. To this effect, he worked with students at the University of Minnesota Duluth, especially Indigenous students in the UMD School of Medicine, and in the Minnesota state prison system with Indigenous inmates. 

A Gift to One, A Gift to Many chronicles Jackson's life and work, including interviews with Jackson and many people whom he healed or named. In the documentary Jackson discusses his upbringing, how he came to be a healer, and his methods of healing, including visits from spirits and their assistance, and traditional plant medicines. Also included are interviews with practitioners of Western medicine expressing their support for and belief in the importance of Jackson's medicine, and Jackson's work with Indigenous students in the UMD School of Medicine. Jackson also discusses various aspects of Ojibwe culture related to his work, including dreams, naming, and pipe ceremonies.

Aue noted that one thing that stood out to her during this project in working with partners, for the project, “from the tribal communities in and around Duluth, was how unique and varied traditional medicine can be from community to community and even from individual to individual. Jackson’s knowledge and practices are specific to the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe, where he lived and worked, and are specific to him and his gifts and knowledge.” She also added that Jackson’s “family wanted this knowledge to be preserved and that the Archives is honored to be trusted with the care of this documentary.” 

Many moving parts and years of preparation. 

The project is the culmination of “many amazing people,” Aue said, people whom she feels very fortunate to have worked with. Aue explained that this includes everyone who worked on the documentary back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, including Rick Smith, a UMD Alumni and the former AILRC director, who was the narrator for the documentary when it was created. The documentary and the additional footage from the production were donated to the Archives & Special Collections by Karen Diver on behalf of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe, with the support of documentarians Lorraine Slabbaert-Norrgard and Phillip Norrgard.   

Aue noted that the work for this project started a couple of years ago and that the UMD American Indian Archives Advisory Council has been an invaluable partner, especially in helping the Archives staff to understand the importance and context of Jackson’s work. 

Portions of Jackson’s biography were researched and written by Seanna Stinnett for an Archives and American Indian Studies internship. Transcription for the film’s closed captions, and translation of Ojibwemowin language, was provided by James Ozaawaanakwad Clark. A grant from the Pascal Foundation provided funding to digitize the film, and our partners at the University of Minnesota Archives gave it a home in UMedia, our shared digital repository. 

A Gift to One, A Gift to Many

Image source:  Screen still from documentary "A Gift to One, A Gift to Many" used with permission from the Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives & Special Collections.

Publication Date