began as a small community gathering to promote the power of the
Ojibwe language in Minnesota blossomed this year into a celebration
larger than its organizers ever imagined.
Nagaajiwanaang Ojibwe Language Camp in Sawyer started five years
ago with about 190 people gathering for family activities and speaking
Ojibwemowin. This year, that mid-June camp attracted more than 1,200
people over four days, and organizers are looking forward to increased
numbers next year.
"It was just a happy time, many smiles, a lot of laughter,"
said Jim Northup, Fond du Lac Ojibwe, who started the camp with
his wife, Pat Northrup, and their friend Rick Gresczyk.
The camp was a mix of Native and non-Native, including visitors
from Germany and Norway. Some tribal members from Turtle Mountain
Community College even came to get ideas for their own camp.
are welcome, Jim said, and though the Ojibwe language skills ran
from "some people who didn't know one word" to fluent speakers,
none felt uncomfortable. "We speak a lot of English. We're going
to the level that people speak. We're not hoity-toity, 'We know
Ojibwe is mingled with English in the lodges where people learned
how to make birchbark baskets, cedar flutes, drumsticks, dried meats,
beaded work, moccasins and other crafts.
"In my waaginogaan," Jim said, "we played cribbage in Ojibwe,
just to teach the numbers."
At the Kiwenz Campground, at least 50 teams competed in two
canoe racesone with paddles and the other using the pole and
knocker from wild ricing.
Although camp attendance nearly doubled from last year, Pat
wasn't worried about feeding everyone. "I figure the Creator never
gives us more than we can handle."
brought something to share, such as fruit or coffee; local families
and organizations sponsored meals. Fundraisers, including an art
auction, contributed and the Fond du Lac Tribal Council supported
the program with funding and workers. The tribe also built indoor
toilets and showers at the site for the four-day event.
"I'd really take off my hat to this reservation," Pat said.
"They passed a resolution to make Ojibwe the first language and
they're doing what they say they were going to do by preserving
and supporting the language."
Thanks to such support, everything is free"Free camping,
free learning, free food," said Jim.
"The language is free," Pat added, "that's why the camp is free."
That most everything flows smoothly may stem from its family-oriented
theme, "Respect Everyone."
motto for the camp is always to respect each other and Mother Earth,"
Jim said. And to respect language nuances. "In Ojibwe country, there's
a lot of dialects; because there are people coming from all over,
we need to respect these dialects."
At the camp, amid family merriment, the language is lauded and
By the end of event, Jim said, "People go way beyond what we
thought is possible; they're saying sentences. We want to spark