Ojibwe Immersion Camp teaches language, cultureClose to 400 people came for the second annual Ojibwe Immersion Camp. Campers came from all over the area, organizer Jim Northrup said, including every Ojibwe reservation in Minnesota (including Grand Portage, Nett Lake, Red Lake, Leech Lake, White Earth, Mille Lacs and Fond du Lac) as well as several from Wisconsin. Most people stayed for the entire four-day camp.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Awanibiisaa is the Ojibwe word for “misty rain.”
It may have been one of the many words learned by the 400-some people who gathered for last week’s Ojibwe Immersion Camp. Then again, maybe not. Because it was an immersion camp, the focus was more on conversational Ojibwe rather than rote drills.
“We had 11 fluent speakers there,” said Jim Northrup, one of four camp organizers. “As I was showing students how to make baskets, one of the fluent speakers was translating what I was saying. During another presentation, we even had a conversation between two fluent speakers. So it was more normal conversation, rather than saying ‘This is the word for car; this is the word for house.’”
When asked why he thinks it is important for people to learn the Ojibwe language, Northrup talked about how he was sent to a federal boarding school when he was 6 years old. Before he left, he had spoken mostly Ojibwe. When he got to the school, he quickly learned that English was the only language allowed. (The schools were reportedly formed with the intention of forcing Native American children to assimilate into the predominant culture, so they were often harshly punished for any demonstration of their own culture.)
“My Ojibwe was taken away,” he said, “but that first six years prepared me because I knew what the sounds were.
“Ojibwe is our identity. There are some concepts and ideals that can only be expressed in Ojibwe… And the language is a gift from the Creator. The language will never die, but the people who speak it might.”
Northrup said the camp – the second annual – was even more successful this year in terms of both attendees and finished products.
Campers made birch bark baskets, cedar flutes, hand drums, indigenous pottery as well as “manoomin tools” (cedar knockers and poles for collecting wild rice).
“I can’t bring myself to say ‘wild rice,’” Northrup said. “Wild rice is that black stuff from California they sell in gas stations. Manoomin is what we eat.”
Campers came from all over the area, Northrup said, including every Ojibwe reservation in Minnesota (including Grand Portage, Nett Lake, Red Lake, Leech Lake, White Earth, Mille Lacs and Fond du Lac) as well as several from Wisconsin. Most people stayed for the entire four-day camp.
“We had people from the cities, too: Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul – and Esko,” Northrup said, with a chuckle.
Ivy Vainio attended the camp for the second year running, along with various family members.
“What I like about camp is how it brings families together,” she said. “It brings the community together. Everything we do there – the language, activities – it all connects us to the culture.
“When I do something, I like to think of my great-grandmother, Frances Beargrease of Grand Portage. I think about how what I am doing connects me to her and how she did things.”
Not everyone at the immersion camp was Native American. The camp is open to anyone, Northrup said, as long as they abide by the theme: “the spirit of respect.”
People were respectful, he said, they learned a lot; they worked together and they had a good time.
“The canoe races were a gas,” he said, noting they had two traditional birch bark canoes in the mix.
Northrup also credited the reservation families who volunteered to prepare meals for the camp’s success.
“Different families here said, ‘We’ll take care of supper on Friday, or breakfast on Sunday,’” he said. “We fed 1,200 meals a day – at no charge to campers.”
Odds are good those campers learned at least one other Ojibwe word: Miigwech. Thank you.