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It’s time for Ojibwe camp

Pat and Jim Northrup do most of the planning for the sixth annual Ojibwe language camp from their kitchen table in Sawyer. Jana Peterson/

One thing you won’t find at the annual Language Camp at the Kiwenz Campground in Sawyer is a strict schedule.

In fact, a request for precise Ojibwe camp event times was met with smiles from organizers Jim and Pat Northrup, who are in the sixth year of organizing the four-day, mostly free language camp. Rick Gresczyk also helps with organizing, with lots of support from Ivy and Arne Vainio and Rose Nordin.

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“Everything is based on Indian time,” said Jim, a well-known author, playwright, columnist and poet who would rather concern himself with cultural knowledge than political correctness.

“It happens when it happens,” Pat added, explaining that everything is loosely organized, with the exception of meals, which happen at set times so the community members and organizations providing food for the camp know when to have everything ready.

The language camp is open to anyone who wants to learn Ojibwe, regardless of proficiency or race. It is, however, mostly people of Native American ancestry who attend the annual camp, where they can learn or polish their Ojibwe language skills with fluent speakers, play games using Ojibwe, enjoy canoe races, and try different cultural arts each day if they want.

With food as the constant, the rest of the days are loosely organized.

Mornings begin with breakfast, then everyone gathers in the open area near the lake to do a round dance together and get the juices flowing, Pat said. Any announcements are made during this time, along with introductions to the 10 different fluent speakers who will be attending the camp at one time or another. The rest of the morning is spent in language activities, whether it’s sitting around a fire talking in Ojibwe or walking through the woods learning the Ojibwe names and functions for different plants.

This year there are fluent speakers from Hudson Bay, Canada, St. Croix and northern Minnesota.

“Our main goal is to preserve the language and make sure it goes on, and to respect each other,” said Pat, explaining that there are many different dialects. “The root of the language is the same for all the dialects, and when people speak the language, they understand each other. That’s the goal.

“It’s a spiritual language. It shouldn’t be argued over. And it shouldn’t cost money to learn it.”

Everything is free at the camp, with the exception this year of the cultural arts. Instructors will be charging a fee for supplies for the different arts, which range from learning how to make cedar flutes ($75), birchbark baskets ($40), cedar knockers, moccasins, arrowheads and beadwork ($5 each project).

Activities will include canoe racing, “Mad Science” for the kids, an Ojibwe action walk, a small powwow and lots of talking around the fire.

“It’s important to visit,” Jim said.