A new Ojibwe resource is now available online and on campus at Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College, The Bemidji Pioneerreported. The Ojibwe language initiative is a joint effort between Bemidji State University and Shared Vision, a local organization whose goal, according to its website, is “to be a catalyst that encourages the Bemidji community to work together to expand social, economic, educational and leadership opportunity for people of all races.”
Bemidji, located in Northern Minnesota, is surrounded by Red Lake, White Earth and Leech Lake reservations. The name of the city itself comes from the Ojibwe word Bay-may-ji-ga-maug, which means “lake that traverses another body of water.”
The Bemidji Pioneer reported that in July 2008, Shared Vision organized a survey to evaluate Bemidji area residents’ perceptions of the community’s race relations, racial discrimination and personal and community life. The survey was distributed to American Indians in all three reservations, as well as other Native and non-Native residents. In 2010, Shared Vision started encouraging local businesses to install bilingual signs, in order to increase awareness of the Ojibwe language in the community. According to Shared Vision member Michael Meuers, the response was more than what they had hoped for. “Our original goal was 20 businesses,” Meuers said. “We now have 112 sites participating.”
One potential drawback was raised by some business owners, who expressed concern that many people would not know how to pronounce the Ojibwe words. To help them learn the basic rules of Ojibwe pronunciation, Anton Treuer, Ojibwe scholar and BSU professor of languages and ethnic studies, created audio clips that offer accurate pronounciations of Ojibwe words and phrases, with English translations. The resource can be accessed at Bemidji State University's website.
“Ojibwe is the indigenous language of northern Minnesota,” Meuers told The Bemidji Pioneer. “I want to help preserve the language. When you lose a language, you lose culture. When you lose culture, who knows what you lose.” Meuers also mentioned that Shared Vision was preparing more initiatives, focusing on the areas of employment and education. After all, he said, “this is Indian country before we came here.”