Lakehead University’s Native Language Instructors’ Program students were impressed with the full-time Ojibwe immersion classes being held at an elementary school in Michigan.
“It’s like jumping in the water; when you’re in the water you get totally soaked with the water,” said Angus Chapman, a first-year NLIP student from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug who has worked with Wasaya Airways and Wawatay Native Communications Society. “If you’re in the language speaking all day, it soaks in much more than just an hour or half-hour a day. It starts to build inside you as well. We’re like empty guitar cases because we don’t really know who we are. If we develop our language much better, get to know it, we will begin to feel more hope.”
Chapman and about 110 other NLIP students and staff learned about the history and successes and challenges faced by the Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Immersion Charter School during a July 9 presentation by Waadookodaading teachers Lisa LaRonge and Keller Paap at the Bora Laskin Auditorium.
“What these guys are doing is incredible, the way they picked up the language for themselves and their families,” said Adolphus Cameron, a third-year NLIP student who has worked with Grand Council Treaty #3. “It is something we can take with us and learn how to do these immersions and work through larger obstacles. They have 10 years experience and they have valuable knowledge. It is something they are willing to share and we should grab at the opportunity.”
Cameron knows of a couple of Treaty 3 communities that have been trying to develop similar immersion programs in their schools.
“It is a concept people are picking up and wanting to do with their kids,” Cameron said, noting the Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Immersion Charter School involvement of the families is the best way to teach the language. “I like what they have done.”
Paap, a Grade 1-2 immersion teacher at the Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Immersion Charter School, said it is important to take care of the language and Indigenous knowledge or they will be lost.
“Knowing who we are and what we have is key to our survival and our well being,” Paap said. “Our traditional knowledge and our language helps us to survive on a daily basis but is also a key to strengthening our understanding of our place in the world and how we see and maintain our ways of knowing.”
Paap said the knowledge they teach in their classes cannot be found in a text book.
“The only way to access and develop this is to work with first speakers of our languages who are the living resources that we have available to us,” Paap said. “Without that we will forever be disconnected from our history and our knowledge and our understanding and our ability to apply that knowledge successfully and accurately for the purposes of living a good life. Without that connection and the ability to access through becoming fluent in your language, it is difficult. You will not be able to get that level of complexity without being able to speak your language.”
Paap said the school’s goal is to eventually teach the language using full-time immersion all the way up to Grade 12.
LaRonge, a curriculum developer at the Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Immersion Charter School, has been developing Grade 4-5 curriculum over the past two years and looks forward to the day when full-time immersion curriculum is available for all 12 grades at the school.
“I work with our Elder who is our language resource person, the expert at our school,” LaRonge said. “We work together to review standards but also look at age-appropriate curriculum for delivering content. We are creating a lot of the resources and actual materials the children would be using in class.”
Martin Tuesday, a first-year NLIP student, was impressed with the school’s progress.
Tuesday would like to see more of the Anishinabe culture, history and language taught in school.
“We can’t be controlled,” Tuesday said. “We have to do it our own way, the way we feel in our hearts. That is the way we have to teach the language.”
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