Michael Meuers
Full regalia seen at the Ojibwemowin Revitalization Celebration.

Ojibwemowin Revitalization Celebration Honors Larry Stillday

Michael Meuers

"There is a great beauty to the language and culture of the Red Lake Ojibwe." ~Chi-Ma’iingan/Larry Stillday.

Concerned that language and tradition will disappear as elders die, natives of Red Lake Nation—and across the country—are focused on language revitalization and related efforts to retain tribal culture. Much of indigenous culture depends on native language, as many concepts just cannot be translated to English.

“Come join us to celebrate the Ojibwe Language on Wednesday, June 25, 2014,” read a flyer distributed reservation-wide the week previous. In response cars and trucks streamed into the east side of a grassland near the Red Lake Hospital around 6 p.m. A bit cool for a summer’s eve, light jackets and sweaters were not an unusual site, but the mood was warm and joyful.

Off to the right children lined up to take their turn in a bouncy castle brought in for the evening by Tom Barrett Sr. Off to the left front, a large tent was filled with tables and chairs while nearby brats and burgers were being grilled for the feast to come.

In the center of the field celebrants began filling chairs arranged in a huge circle.  Inside the circle, featured Drums were setting up, Eyabay, NDN Creek, Young Kingbird, Kingbird Singers, Bear Clan, P-Town Boyz, and Eagle Clan.

Outside the circle near the parking area were information booths about Ojibwemowin Revitalization Programs being sponsored by the tribe. One booth distributed information and applications for the new Head Start Immersion School scheduled to begin in September. Advisors Francis Miller and Elizabeth “Pug” Kingbird staffed it.

Small Ojibwemowin dictionaries and questionnaires regarding Red Lake Nation Constitutional Reform were handed out as attendees entered the field. Off to one far corner of the circle sat Red Lake’s newly elected Chairman Darrell G. Seki Sr., who shared stories with a steady stream of visitors and well-wishers.

This was the third in a series of Ojibwemowin Celebrations. The first at Ponemah was held in June 2013, and the second was held at Little Rock last August during the Ojibwe culture and language camp for kids.

The Feast and Give-away (as the others) was sponsored by Red Lake Chemical Health, and Economic Development. This particular celebration was in honor of Chi-Ma’iingan (Larry Stillday), a tireless worker, supporter and key participant in Ojibwemowin and culture revitalization. Stillday passed just weeks before on May 20, 2014.

Drum songs preceded words offered by elders and first speakers. Dancing ensued —some in regalia, some not—as emcee Murphy Thomas assigned songs alternating the seven celebrated Drums.

Chairman Seki was called on first to offer words to those assembled. Speaking briefly, as is his manner, he expressed his strong support for Ojibwemowin revitalization appropriately in Ojibwe, his first language, and then repeated his message in English.

Justin Beaulieu spoke next inviting all Red Lake members to fill out questionnaires on Red Lake’s Constitutional Reform initiative. “The Constitution Reform Initiative Committee wants to hear from members of each community in order to ensure that the drafting of a New Red Lake Constitution accurately reflects the voice of the Red Lake Nation,” said Beaulieu.

Francis Miller spoke inviting members to learn more about the Head Start Ojibwemowin Immersion School starting in the fall.

Just before dusk, emcee Murphy Thomas asked for an honor song for the family of Larry Stillday. The family gathered and danced about the circle in a tight family group, as the beat of Eyabay lifted spirits, and memories of Chi-Ma’iingan ran through the minds of many in attendance.

A giveaway closed out the event with everyone in attendance receiving at least one gift; blankets and pillows, basketballs and electronic games, small tool kits and kitchen items, were among the gifts. Then all danced a giveaway song, raising their gifts in unison at the appropriate time.

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