A Native American language program in Bemidji, Minnesota was recently recognized by the National Geographic Society’s Mississippi River Geotourism Program.
A certificate presented to the Ojibwe Language Project in November 2016, reads:
“The Mississippi River Geotourism Program Recognizes Bemidji’s Ojibwe Language Project for their valuable contribution to the Mississippi River Geotourism Program, and their support in sustaining and enhancing the unique geographic character of the region through their commitments to aesthetics, culture, environment, heritage, and the well-being of the regions’ residents.”
The program was nominated anonymously for the honor. “We don’t know who nominated Bemidji’s Ojibwe Language Project for this recognition, but we are grateful on behalf of the organizations and businesses who are participating,” said Michael Meuers, one of the organizers of the bilingual language project.
As the nominator pointed out in their submission to the National Geographic: “More than 180 sites in the Bemidji area post bilingual signage in English and Ojibwe, an innovative idea for improving race relations. It helps American Indians (mostly Ojibwe) feel more welcomed and respected in the community, it helps the non-Indian learn a little bit more about the area before they arrived, it is a conversation starter between Indians and non-Indians, and tourists eat it up.”
Many small businesses participate, as well as Bemidji State University, Beltrami County buildings, Sanford Health Center, all schools in the Bemidji and Kelliher school districts, and even the newest McDonald’s.
“Bemidji, the First City on the Mississippi, is at the center of Minnesota’s three largest Indian tribes. Bemidji is an Ojibwe word short for Bemijigamaag meaning lake with cross waters referring to the Mississippi flowing through the lake,” noted the nominator.
What is geotourism?
“Geotourism is a relatively new term for travel,” wrote Jim Anderson in a 2014 Minneapolis Star Tribune article. “It focuses on a destination's unique culture and history and intends to have visitors help enrich those qualities rather than turn the place into a typical tourist trap. The National Geographic Society has embraced the model and made it part of a global mission, said James Dion, sustainable tourism program manager with the National Geographic Society.”
NatGeo created a website that shows tourists the many experiences the mighty Mississippi can offer. According to the Star Tribune, geotourism encourages that people tread lightly on the environment, and it also helps tourists have a more authentic experience. “People don’t travel to states, they travel to experiences,” Dion told the Star Tribune.
And in Bemidji, tourists can experience a community that is working to achieve cultural understanding through bilingual signage. “We hope that one day boozhoo and miigwech will be as synonymous with Bemidji as Aloha is with Hawaii,” Meuers said.