Bay Mills Immerses Students in Language

Nov 15th, 1996 | By | Category: 8-3: Ceremony, Tribal College News

It started as Doris Boissoneau’s dream. Now the Ojibwe culture and language learning experience at Bay Mills Community College is helping to preserve the Anishinabe way of life.

“Language is usually taught from the European worldview. You’re taught a list of nouns, but our language is mostly verbs. When the spiritual intent is lost, it’s like teaching English in Ojibwe,” says Kathy LeBlanc, Bay Mills cultural services coordinator. For example, the word for sweetgrass, “weengushk,” means “grandmother’s hair,” not sugar-weed, she says. As another example, Ojibwe sentence structure puts the verb first, taking the emphasis off the “I.”

The Nishnaabemwin Language and Instructors Institute is a three year, six weeks per summer, program designed to prepare language instructors. Lannan Foundation provides funds for students to go to Bay Mills in Michigan. Many of the participants could speak Ojibwe but could not teach it before they enrolled. The intensive program focuses upon contextual, immersion learning through activities like eating, playing memory games, traditional food preparation, and writing plays. After the third year, Bay Mills will accept new students in 1998.

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