very name comes from a Dakota word meaning "sky-tinted waters."
Yet fewer than 30 fully fluent Dakota speakers remain in the state,
according to the Dakota Ojibwe Language Revitalization Alliance.
are little better for speakers of the Ojibwe language. A 1995 survey
of reservations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan found 418 fluent
Ojibwemowin speakers, none younger than 45. Most were elders.
members want the numbers of fluent Dakota and Ojibwemowin speakers
really need our language and culture," alliance member Jennifer
Bendickson said. "If children don't know their culture and
their language, then they become lost because they are missing that
part of themselves."
Twin Cities-based alliance -- a gathering of elders, fluent Dakota
and Ojibwemowin speakers, educators and others from Minnesota's
tribes -- was formed last June at the Fond du Lac Reservation. It
met Friday with language educators and other interested people from
Fond du Lac, Leech Lake and Grand Portage.
going to different communities to find out what is going on... and
what we can do to support them," Bendickson said. "Any
effort that is being made to preserve language is good, because
we need that."
estimate that 500 years ago, American Indians in the continental
U.S. area spoke more than 300 languages. About half survive.
were lost when tribes that spoke them were exterminated. Others
faded as schools and missionaries worked to quash native languages
the oppression, there have always been people interested in preserving
Indian languages, said Rosemary Christensen, a Mole Lake Ojibwe
who grew up on Bad River. She was involved in the 1995 Ojibwe language
survey and teaches American Indian studies at University of Wisconsin-Green
however, there is more overt interest and action, she said.
that the tribes have money, they are putting their money where their
mouth is," Christensen said. "Right now is the heyday
of Indian tribes trying various things to become successful in how
to teach language to fluency."
Mille Lacs Band, for example, has spent an incredible amount on
language," she said. "Even before they had a casino, they
were spending money to preserve and strengthen their language."
Mille Lacs Band youth experience Ojibwe traditions almost daily.
At the band's Nay Ah Shing Schools, courses in Ojibwe language,
history and culture are part of the curriculum. And in 2000, the
band opened the Ojibwe Language and Cultural Awareness Grounds near
director Larry Smallwood said it's important to preserve Ojibwemowin
because the language and Ojibwe culture are interconnected.
need to do our ceremonies in our language, because that's the way
it was given to us by the Creator," he said. "And we believe
we do not only need it in this world, but also after we leave here
and go to the spirit world."
has seen a growing interest in Ojibwe language and culture, especially
among those in their late teens and early 20s.
are starting to get back to their own identity," he said. "Something
woke them up and said 'Hey, I'm an Indian person, and I better get
back to my own identity,' because for a while they were pretty well
Mille Lacs band is not the only regional group working to preserve
Ojibwemowin. In Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Native American Center has held a language immersion camp each of
the past two summers at Red Cliff, and offers another this week.
Lac Courte Oreilles sponsors a similar camp.
Fond du Lac Band also is working to expand its language preservation
efforts. It offers regular language instruction at centers in Cloquet,
Old Sawyer and Brookston.
you put together all those little groups of people, then you have
a really large group of people trying to revitalize their language,"
Bendickson said. "That is very encouraging."