Friends gathered earlier this month at the American Indian Center to celebrate the life of Dr. Johnny P. Flynn, 61, assistant professor of Religious Studies and director of American Indian Programs at IUPUI. Flynn died on November 29, 2012, after a long illness.
"He was a great teacher," said Thea "Ruby" Bennett, DJ with WFHB Bloomington Community Radio. Known for his unconventional and unstructured teaching method, Flynn taught "Introduction to Religion" and "American Indian Religions" at IUPUI.
A member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma and a longtime activist in American Indian affairs, Flynn incorporated Potawatomi stories from his mother and grandmother into his lessons, preserving the importance of oral tradition in Native American culture and using the past to tie traditional lives of Native Americans to the modern world.
Flynn received a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He taught at Northern Arizona University and Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma, before coming to IUPUI as a lecturer in 2004, citing a "deep spiritual connection to Indiana" because it was the home of 160 different Native American tribes.
His impact on the Native American community in Indiana had far-reaching results. His work for more tribal involvement to "start a discussion, and speak for those whose voices are not heard" resulted in the 2007 Advisor of the Year Award from IUPUI Undergraduate Student Government for his work with the Native American Student Alliance.
Forging an alliance between IUPUI and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, the only tribe with federal recognition in Indiana, he convinced the Pokagon Band to provide a grant for staff support in return for continued development of Native American education on campus.
He also helped develop programs alongside the Minority Heath Coalition for the American Indian Center of Indiana, putting together an interactive website to connect students and tribal communities, and creating a site to teach the Potawatomi language.
"I believe Johnny did what he was born to do: teach," said Kerry Steiner, assistant with the AICI. "He was a pistol, but I liked that about him. You never had to wonder where you stood; he called it as he saw it. I always knew I could go to him with questions and he never made me feel foolish for asking."
Flynn was a published author and frequent contributor to the online magazine Religion Dispatches. Steiner praised him as "an excellent writer whose witty side always showed itself, even in the most serious articles; it was the kind of straightforward sarcasm that made you think."
Acknowledging his "wicked wit" and describing her friend as a firecracker, Bennett remembered Flynn as a tender-hearted, good man and "magnificent human being."
"He is so sorely missed, by so many people," she added. "The sparkle in his eyes and his smart-ass chuckle sometimes dared me to laugh at the absurdities of life, and in everything, with Johnny, there was something to be learned."
believes the best way to honor Flynn is to carry on his passion for social
justice and Indigenous rights and women's rights. "Hopefully,
those of us who were blessed to know Johnny will carry that fire with us as we
walk through the rest of our lives."