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Birchbark Blog

First Speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe Language

Birchbark Books - Monday, November 01, 2010
Narrated by Louise Erdrich.  Featuring Anton Treuer.
From Twin Cities Public Television.

The entire show can now be viewed online! http://www.tpt.org/?a=productions&id=3

A language is lost every fourteen days. One of those endangered tongues is Minnesota’s own Ojibwe language. Now a new generation of Ojibwe scholars and educators are racing against time to save the language. Working with the remaining fluent-speaking Ojibwe elders, they hope to pass the language on to the next generation. But can this language be saved?  Told by Ojibwe elders, scholars, writers, historians and teachers, this tpt original production is filled with hope for the future.
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About First Speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe Language

As recent as World War II, the Ojibwe language (referred to as ojibwemowin in Ojibwe) was the language of everyday life for the Anishinaabe and historically the language of the Great Lakes fur trade.  Now this indigenous language from where place names like Biwabik, Sheboygan and Nemadji State Forest received their names is endangered.

The loss of land and political autonomy, combined with the damaging effects of U.S government policies aimed at assimilating Native Americans through government run boarding schools, have led to the steep decline in the use of the language.  Anton Treuer, historian, author and professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University and featured in First Speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe Language, estimates there are fewer than one thousand fluent Ojibwe speakers left in the United States, mostly older and concentrated in small pockets in northern Minnesota with fewer than one hundred speakers in Wisconsin, Michigan and North Dakota combined.

Treuer is a part of a new generation of Ojibwe scholars and educators who are now racing against time to save the language and the well-being of their communities.  Narrated by acclaimed Ojibwe writer, Louise Erdrich, First Speakers tells their contemporary and inspirational story.  Working with the remaining fluent Ojibwe speaking elders, the hope is to pass the language on to the next generation.  As told through Ojibwe elders, scholars, writers, historians and teachers, this TPT original production reveals some of the current strategies and challenges that are involved in trying to carry forward the language.

First Speakers takes viewers inside two Ojibwe immersion schools: Niigaane Ojibwemowin Immersion School on the Leech Lake Reservation near Bena, Minnesota and the Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Immersion Charter School on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation near Hayward, Wisconsin. In both programs, students are taught their academic content from music to math entirely in the Ojibwe language and within the values and traditional practices of the Ojibwe culture. Unique to the schools is the collaboration between fluent speaking elders and the teachers who have learned Ojibwe as their second language.

First Speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe Language provides a window into their innovative and intergenerational learning experience and the language they are determined to save.

RUTHLESS NOSTALGIA

Louise Erdrich - Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Dear Friends and Book Lovers of the World and the Twin Cities in particular,

Thank you for your visits all through the summer.  I didn't visit this blog because this is Minnesota.  Who can bear to sit inside and write when this brief, golden, breathlessly hot, high pressure perfect, time is upon us?  Niibin.  The word for summer in Ojibwe.  No blogging in Niibin.  But now it is the first of September and things get serious.  The school bell rings across from Birchbark Books and there is the periodic hysterical joy of recess sounds.  There is a new garden placed beside the lunch room, right across from us.  There are books to be read.

Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge by Vic Glover gave me heart one day, and indelible images.  A book filled with everyday wisdom, gentle survival humor, and practical advice for those who wonder what it is like to be in Indian.  

Let's Take the Long Way Home, a memoir of friendship by Gail Caldwell, is (disclosure) by my friend Gail Caldwell.   For anyone who has ever lost another precious human, and that includes all of us, this is a map of grief and joy you'll hold to your heart.  For anyone who has struggled with addiction or likes dogs, and that includes many of us, this is a map of terror and hope .

I've resisted reading Roberto Bolano's 2666 and now I cannot stop.  It is like entering a strange and compelling dream.

I have just picked up Empire of the Summer Moon, Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, by S.C. Gwynne.  It is a promising read.

I also have the advanced readers copy of Philip Roth's Nemesis, which I think is one of his best books.  The ending says all there is to say about the arc and beauty of our mortality.

For me the end of August and its long light is a time of relentless nostalgia  -- Faulker knew about this light.  I am watching the sun creep behind the still green leaves, lighting them fiercely from behind so they glow.  Unearthly.  Gorgeous.  Mundane.





Ten Years of Books

Louise Erdrich - Tuesday, June 08, 2010
This June will mark the TEN YEAR anniversary of Birchbark Books.  I just spent a rainy morning in the bookstore.  It feels like a hundred years and no time at all; it feels like the most unlikely place in the world and the most inevitable; it feels like everywhere in the world and it feels like home.   

The story of our store is on the website -- how we leased the space and took thirteen layers of floor and dentist office equipment.  Check it!

We started out with books culled from BOOKMAN, our local book distributor.  Bookman was absorbed by Ingram and its funky/lovely warehouse turned into Lofts.  Ten years ago, I went there with a shopping cart and loaded the cart, hand picking the likely titles from dim piles, riding up and down a freight elevator, checking out at the end with Bookman clerks including one who was and became the terrific writer Kate DiCamillo.  We put the books on the shelves and tried to figure out how to sell them.  We weren't very good at it.   Denny Magers of Magers and Quinn let me buy some books from him.  I set out books from my own library -- at the time we had a used/new mixture.   

Thank god I kept my day job and the asema that was placed in the walls kept on attracting people who understood that the art of bookselling is unlike any other business.  It is a way of life.  It is an odd and mundane passion.

Books must contain mysteriously the whole of human experience. -- yet sometimes one can hardly believe that there remains yet a new book to be written.  

I just fell in love all over with a big stack of books that have never been written before.  (The Farmer's Daughter by Jim Harrison, and More Remarkable Trees, and everything by Ha Jin). Or books I haven't read yet. (Bleak House)  Or books that made me laugh until I got sick.  (Awkward Family Photos).

I'll write more all summer about bookstore life.  I am just absorbing the fact that we are still here.  Thank you to our devoted customers and delighted newcomers!  Thank you tribal schools and tribal colleges, thank you local schools and teachers.  Thank you everyone who has passed through the blue door.

Louise Erdrich

Canoe Family

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