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Florence Jones

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Florence Curl Jones rallied her community to embrace their heritage not as an artifact to be 'preserved' but as a culture to be lived, passed on, and shared, in all its vibrance and vitality.

Florence Jones (1907-2003) was the spiritual leader and chief healer of the Winnemem Wintu tribe of Northern California, revered by her community and respected by Western doctors for her encyclopedic knowledge of natural healing.

The Wintu have called the McCloud River Watershed near Mount Shasta home for more than a millennium, but were dispossessed by miners and settlers who drove them from their homeland, and later by bureaucrats who would not grant them a reservation. When a private consortium continued that unjust legacy with plans to turn remaining Wintu land into a ski resort, Florence Jones realized that to protect her people's future, they would have to preserve their past. (Photograph by Christopher McLeod.)

Drawing on multiple generations and communities for support, Florence Jones mustered greater resources and a broader impact than individual stakeholders could have managed alone. She also refused to accept that her identity as a woman and an elder, or her background as a Native American and rural resident, should in any way 'marginalize' her ability to create change. Instead, she drew on them for strength and guidance. Although the Wintu had dwindled from more than 14,000 at first contact with non-Natives to only 395 at the time of her fight, Jones rallied the Wintu and unexpected allies to save sacred sites and the Wintu way of life.

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