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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.

At Last!

Louise Erdrich - Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Dearly Beloved Customers From Minneapolis and Saint Paul,

Reading back through the logs and posts after a long (wasn't it almost endless) winter I came across Janet's comment -- have I missed thanking the customers from The Most Romantic City in the World -- and the Equally Most Romantic City in the World -- our Twin Cities?  You have brought our little ship through the doldrums of January.   Or, you know, that very quiet time in January.   I am in a twelve step Patrick O'Brian resistance program but have occasional relapses into sailor talk.  Thank you brave book lovers who set your spankers and ventured out into the one way streets paved with ice.  Thank you for coming to Birchbark Books.  
 
I had to turn to William Trevor because I was in irons with the British Royal Navy. Love and Summer is a small gem of characterization, rural self containment and quiet pain.  Again, this book the choice of March's book club, I was enthralled by those who shared a homage to the Irish meal and talked about the book.  What a pleasure it was.  The next book choice is Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel.  Our Celebrity Host will be the marvelous cookbook writer and great reader -- Beth Dooley.  With Katherine Viegel of the Kenwood Cafe, they are inventing a meal right off the royal table of Henry VIII.  I thought that everything possible had been written that could be written with wicked relish about that period of history, but no.  Wolf Hall.  Oh no.  From the Napoleonic Wars into the marital savagery of Tudor England!  Another purely addictive read.

Entirely on another note -- the language activist, Bemidji State Professor, author and all around wonderful Anton Treuer visited to read from and lecture on his book.  Recently published by The Minnesota Historical Society Press, Ojibwe in Minnesota is a distinct achievement.  This book finally, AT LAST, serves as the perfect text to introduce Ojibwe history here in Minnesota.  Treuer manages to pack a world into each sentence.  This is the perfect book for anyone curious about the Ojibwe, the perfect book for those who want to consolidate understanding of the Ojibwe, the perfect book for . . . well, everyone.  I wish that this book was required reading for living here in Minnesota.  

Mike and Niizhoo Sullivan sang a great hand drum song before the Anton Treuer reading.  Look up Niizhoo on You Tube.  His singing will blow you away and make you happy.  He is five years old.  Kudos to Mike for pursuing his doctorate in linguistics at the U and for singing with his son and passing on these moving, exquisite, lovely Ojibwe songs.

If I wrote blogs more often they would be shorter.  This has been a week of At Lasts -- health reform, after all.  Tune in to Bill Moyer's Journal this Friday, March 26, for what I am sure will be a valiant attempt to parse what just happened.

Yours for books,

Louise


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