Indigenous Language Revitalization

Immersive Program Promotes Intergenerational Learning 

Relearning a family language, teaching others, learning how to pray — the reasons for taking part in the summer 2017 Learn to Speak Ojibwe program were as diverse as the students.

The program, led by UWinnipeg’s Indigenous Studies department and Office of Indigenous Affairs, brought together students, community members, children, and Elders for an intensive two-week experience at the end of August.

“In the Ojibwe worldview it’s all interconnected…all the generations are learning together,” said Nicole Alty, while bouncing another participant’s toddler during a break in the day’s lesson.

The program is designed to teach beginner and intermediate Ojibwe (also known as Anishinaabemowin) and is one part classroom work and one part fieldwork — the latter taking place at Medicine Eagle Camp near Riding Mountain National Park.

In between language lessons and traditional teachings on medicine, beading, and drumming in the camp’s open-air classroom, students and their families bunk together and share meals at a nearby summer camp.

“We try to make it as immersive as possible,” said UWinnipeg Indigenous Studies instructor Darren Courchene, adding that one way to accomplish this is by including Elders in the course delivery.

“With English and Ojibwe there’s a lot that is lost in translation,” he said. “You have to know the nuances…with Elders, they’ll help you understand different forms of words.”

Elder Audrey Bone is a medicine woman from Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation. During her lesson, students trekked into the bush — and even into a pond — to collect plants that are used to treat everything from bug bites to breathing problems.

“They’re so excited and willing to learn,” she said. “I think it has a lot to do with being in the outdoors, you know the energy people get just by being in this environment.”

By sharing her knowledge, Bone is contributing to UWinnipeg’s efforts to support Indigenous language revitalization said Jarita Greyeyes, the University’s Director of Community Learning and Engagement.

The Learn to Speak Ojibwe program is made possible through a three-year partnership with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

“With support from INAC’s Post-Secondary Partnerships Program we were able to provide a land-based university course that not only expanded students’ ability to speak, read, and write in Anishinaabemowin, but also deepened their understandings of Anishinaabe culture and worldviews,” said Greyeyes.

This story was originally published in the spring 2018 issue of UWinnipeg Magazine.

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