Ojibwa Anthony Roy keeping Native lanuage alive in Chicago
CHICAGO — Language is one of the most defining elements of culture. It binds people together and reminds us that there is more than just English to be learned and spoken.
Many American Indians lost this part of their culture by force or fear of family being shipped off to boarding schools, where languages and cultures were literally beaten out of students. With the advancement of technology and new ways of implementing these learning tools, tribes have been able to make great strides in restoring and preserving their languages.
Recently, the St. Kateri Center of Chicago and the Chicago Title VII American Indian Education Program are cosponsoring Ojibway language classes entitled Nin Kiidiwin (I Speak/My Words). The Ojibway language is a part of Anishinaabemowin, which also includes Odawa and Potawatomi tribes. Following the Manitoulin dialect, sister instructors Georgina Roy, Director of the St. Kateri Center, and Dorothy Roy (M’chigeeng First Nations—Ojibway) began conducting a 12-week course on January 14, 2015.
Both women have lived in Chicago for over 40 years, been active members of the community and continue to speak their first language despite their early years spent in boarding school.
“My first voice was in the Ojibway language,” says Georgina Roy. “I’m so grateful for this gift, more so today.”
Nin Kiidiwin is a grant-funded language program that is free of charge and works to strengthen the Chicago urban Indian community. The end of the course will lead to the development of individualized Ojibway children’s books that will be accessible in the center’s White Cedar Room Library. Serving as a template, the community could potentially use this pilot program to structure future American Indian language workshop series.
So far, over 25 participants of the American Indian community have signed up including families and individuals from all age ranges. While this course is catered towards Ojibways, it is not limited to and does incorporate various tribal affiliations such as Odawa, Potawatomi, Navajo, Lakota and Cree.
During the first class, a short video was shown of an Ojibway boy who receives a magical cape to fly between communities to spread Anishinaabemowin. Each student then decorated his or her own cape as a reminder to the importance of this program.
“They are all heroes that will go back and share what they’ve learned here,” says Roy.
Classes will continue to meet every Wednesday evening for the next several months in the hopes of keeping the Ojibway language alive and give it room to thrive here in Chicago.
Learn more about program.