Michael Meuers
Staff member Elizabeth Strong seeks advice from elder first speakers Carol Barrett, Mary Lou Stillday, and Susan Johnson during the Ojibwe Language Revitalization Team meeting.

We are Anishinaabe: Ojibwe Language Revitalization Team Meets

Michael Meuers

A mix of elder first speakers, teachers, and staff traveled toward Ponemah Point just before noon on Monday, June 23, 2014. The journey would take them to the Ponemah Round House for the monthly Ojibwe Language Revitalization Advisory Committee Meeting.

Just a bit before the road curves to The Point, travelers took a left and drove a quarter mile or more back into the woods toward the lake. The journey into the forest is on a beautiful curving road with trees hugging the one-lane trail. Soon and suddenly, the sun and a clearing appear. In the distance is a traditional structure known as a Round House. The log building is simple in its beauty and elegance.

Beyond the structure is a tree line, and beyond that is the largest freshwater lake wholly contained within one state, a sacred body of water known by the Ojibwe People of Red Lake as Miskwaagamiiwi-zaaga’iganiing.

Parking near the structure, Wesley Cloud is seen opening the door to the east—one of two openings. Directly opposite to the west, light outlines another door in the otherwise windowless structure. The only other illumination comes from a cupola high in the center of the Round House. Elder and first speaker Frannie Miller lip-points to Migizi soaring overhead before entering. She smiles and nods.

Nineteen adults and a few grandchildren gather around a table in the center of the building, taking advantage of the solar rays through the cupola.

The Ponemah Round House cupola. (Michael Meuers)

After a light lunch, Taylor, a younger speaker involved in Ojibwemowin revitalization, chairs the informal gathering. Taylor read a statement of purpose and principles:

We are proud to be Anishinaabeg

We are special

We count and we are loved

We believe in our culture

We believe in the traditional

Teachings of our elders

We promise to be kind to others

We promise to be honest & hard


We promise to respect Mother

Earth & All Living things

We believe in the Creator

We will do our very best

Today and always

We are strong, we are proud, we are free

We are Anishinaabe


Several subjects regarding Ojibwemowin revitalization were discussed during the two-hour meeting.

Several events are planned for the summer. Two youth camps are planned for late July, and a possible overnight in August. (Watch for posters and other alerts)

Language Plus Culture Equals Identity—Running Group: An idea spearheaded by Taylor and young speaker Marcus Tyler. They are considering starting a running group for Ojibwemowin visibility patterned somewhat after Million Miles Against Diabetes. (MMAD) A circle illustrated the steps the group would follow: investigate – analyze – design – implement – maintain.

Fluent speakers Marcus Tyler, Arnold Kingbird, and Wesley Cloud during the Ojiwe Language Revitalization Team meeting. (Michael Meuers)

Developing Language Materials & Teaching Tools: Posting Ojibwemowin signage reservation-wide was discussed thinking it an easy and inexpensive first step. Some programs have posted signage already. Signage would concentrate in two areas, buildings and street signs. A strategy for either renaming tribal buildings or translating the existing names into Ojibwemowin was considered.

The Double Vowel System: All concurred that Red Lake will encourage the use of the “double vowel” system, as it is used at Ojibwemowin immersion schools, public schools, and colleges. It is the preferred spelling used in Ojibwemowin books.

Get the School Board on Board: Partnering with Red Lake Schools is important. Not only language classes, but also creating new materials for the classroom, like Ojibwe arts and crafts. Discussion centered on immersion school project partners, including a collaboration of skilled and fluent speaking community members. Partners would include the Red Lake School District, Head Start, and Red Lake Nation College.

Head Start Immersion Teaching Lodge: The use of outside space would be key. Teacher Zack Mitteness Discussed Building A Wigwam. High on the list, and ready to happen, is The Head Start Immersion Classroom. Mitteness will be the lead teacher. The team will be conducting interviews for the other teaching position to join guiding elders, Frances Miller and Elizabeth “Pug” Kingbird. The first immersion Head Start school classroom will open in Fall 2014; applications are being taken with regular head start applications.

Parent Info Sessions: On Tuesday evenings Ojibwe language tables are held, a class for the community focusing on the families of head start school age children. “We need to teach the parents Ojibwemowin as well,” White said.

Master Apprentice Program: Elders, teachers and other staff have been observing and learning at Niigaane Immersion School near Cass Lake, Minnesota. The Master Apprentice Program will work on strategies for learning the language. “Fluent speaking elders will be key,” Miller said. “They may need to be encouraged to share their knowledge, give advice, and participate in this important initiative.”

Culture Important Part of Language

“Offer tobacco at sun up and sun down,” suggested Taylor. “I’d like us to go back to some of the old ways, to help people or elders who have trouble, transporting elders to powwows, etc., people don’t have transportation.”

“Culture does not exist without language,” said elder and first speaker Anna Gibbs. “Language is our connection to our past, our values, to nature, and to the Creator. Cultural and spiritual events should go hand-in-hand with language.”

Red Lake Nation Language Revitalization Plan, Vision and Mission

It is our vision that within 10 years Red Lake will have a younger generation of fluent speakers that promote the language and culture in our communities and act as leaders for the next seven generations. It is our mission to promote this vision through an immersion school as well as through a variety of other initiatives.

The team meets monthly at various locations. Red Lake Economic Development and Planning office invites anyone to contact their office if you would like to get involved or have project ideas for Ojibwemowin Language Revitalization within the Red Lake Nation community.

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