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Communication Associate: Public Relations | Lori Melton | | (218) 726-8830

January 17, 2010
Susan Beasy Latto, Director, UMD Public Relations 218 726-8830
Brian McInnes, Program Director, Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest 218-726-7772

Learning in Ojibwe

UMD Pre-School Language Emersion Program
Provides Learning, Fun and Respect for Diversity

Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest

The Ojibwe language is on the verge of extinction. Those who speak the language are generally tribal Elders. Very few young people speak or even understand the language.

"Many of the tribes in Minnesota have few first-nation native speakers left," says Brian McInnes, program director of the new Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest. Located at the newly renovated UMD Chester Park building, the Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest was created to reverse that trend. The program opened in September 2009. Ten children are currently enrolled.

McInnes, along with Gordon Jourdain (Ojibwe Language Nest head child care teacher) and others from the UMD College of Education and Human Service Professionals and Eni-gikendaasoyang (the Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Language Revitalization) have worked to create a quality care and education immersion program. The comprehensive half-day morning program is licensed by the State Department of Human Services. It provides children ages four and five with learning in all areas including core literacy, science, math, structured play, music and art--all of which are taught through the Ojibwe language.

Gordon Jourdain teaching.

Classroom teacher Gordon Jourdain is an Ojibwe master speaker who didn't learn English until he went to school. "It is rare to find a master speaker who is also a licensed teacher," McInnes says. "We are very lucky to have him." On most days, a UMD education student helps Jourdain in the classroom. A vital part of the program's mission is the mentoring of UMD teacher candidates.

The classroom is divided into areas for learning, play, and projects. Colorful artwork hangs on the walls. Some of the children pick up stuffed toys and state the Ojibwe names of the animals. An otter is a nigig. A loon is a maang.Items around the room are labeled with their Ojibwe name to reinforce the written word along with the spoken word. Colors, shapes, and numbers are all presented in Ojibwe. A child plays a drum and Jourdain leads the children in a song sung in Ojibwe. Field trips to the UMD Tweed Museum of Art, UMD Bagley Nature Center, and the UMD Library are not unusual.

Looking toward the future, McInnes points out that the Ojibwe Language Nest is part of a growing movement to create "intentional language communities to teach each other and bring back the language." He believes immersion is a powerful tool in language revitalization. "We are creating a community of learners. Our charge is to experience the Ojibwe language on a day-to-day basis. We hope that the use of Ojibwe will continue on into the children's daily lives," he said.

McInnes, who is Ojibwe and speaks the language, believes that understanding and speaking one's native language is vital to one's identity and heritage. However, he notes that only about 60% of the children in the program are of American Indian heritage. Enweyang means 'our voice.' The word 'our' can have a broad definition and encompass many people from multiple backgrounds. McInnes is pleased that children who are not of American Indian descent are also learning the language, as he believes it will foster a respect for diversity. "One of our goals is intercultural competence."

The children are blissfully unaware of the terms and statistics. They only know that they are having fun, learning Ojibwe together.

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