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Mille Lacs Band Signs Historic Agreement to Publish Multiple Books in Ojibwe

Feb 17, 2020 03:36PM ● By Editor

Melanie Benjamin, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive, said the book project will help future generations for many years to come.  Photo: Brainerd Dispatch

From - February 17, 2020

The Mille Lacs Band (MLB) of Ojibwe is getting serious about Ojibwe language revitalization and wants to deepen the resources available to advance the language. To this end, the MLB has signed a contract with the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) Press to publish three new monolingual Ojibwe books. MNHS Press has published many previous books on Ojibwe history and culture, and this foray into monolingual Ojibwe publications marks a new venture for the press. This partnership establishes the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe as the first entity to develop monolingual material for release and publication with MNHS. The three books are scheduled for publication in October 2020.

Book Development Is Building Capacity at Mille Lacs

The MLB has multiple goals with the book development work. The work is putting MLB elder speakers of Ojibwe to work and developing the capacity of band members to do their own language development, broaden the scope of financial resources available to the band and its members, and contribute to the broad Ojibwe revitalization effort. The book development work is supported in part through a grant to the Aanjibimaadizing program for MLB workforce development.

Book Making Process

Mille Lacs has identified 25 first speakers of Ojibwe in their communities. So far, 17 have agreed to contribute to this initiative. At content development sessions in July and September of 2019, the 17 elder speakers were each paired with a transcriber who took the stories down in dictation and recorded their stories. The stories cover a range of content from personal reminiscences to creative fiction. The team works hard, starting at 8:00am and continuing past 8:00pm most development days. But the results of their efforts are impressive. Each content session produced 50 stories and around 150 pages of Ojibwe text. The texts are run through a big group spell-check process developed just for these sessions, and then a team of editors that includes Anton Treuer and Michael Sullivan, Sr., works to clean up and format the stories, circling back to the speakers with numerous questions until there is agreement about all details and quality.

Future Work

Mille Lacs has already planned to do three more content sessions, and as the relationship with the MNHS Press and the work of the language team deepens, MLB expects to continue developing books for years to come.

Projected Impact

MLB wants every kind of opportunity for its people. The leadership and citizenry at Mille Lacs believe in education, literacy, financial security and prosperity, and all dimensions of healthy living for all their people. The opportunity for band members to learn their language and culture and to have those things intertwined with literacy makes perfect sense. An elementary student in public school has 5,000 books loaded into an accelerated reading program with assessments by grade level. Mille Lacs is building the foundation so this can be done in Ojibwe. Once the books are done, they stay in print, and the impact and accessibility of the language will grow over time.

The Importance of Language Revitalization

Every language embodies the unique worldview of a people. Having the Ojibwe language alive in Mille Lacs keeps the people recognizable to their ancestors and preserves the cultural patrimony and tools of previous and current generations. Keeping Ojibwe a living language reinforces the sovereign status of the MLB—it is a defining and distinctive feature of what it means to be an Ojibwe nation. Learning a second language enhances cognitive function and helps kids do better in English than their English-only speaking counterparts. As many people around the country struggle with substance abuse, health, and poverty, Mille Lacs is using every available tool to equip their people with an empowered knowledge of who they are as native people, and the teachings and language that have carried the people of Mille Lacs through many dark chapters of history. There is a saying in Ojibwe: “If there is a bramble in your life, pick up your ax.” It’s a metaphor: “If times get hard, pick up your native ways.” The language is the ax. It will help the people thrive.


Melanie Benjamin, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive, said, “We are thrilled to see the success of our elders in developing these books, honored to have developed the healthy, positive, and productive relationship we have with the Minnesota Historical Society Press, and full of hope for our youth and future generations who will benefit from this work for years to come.” 

Joe Nayquonabe, Sr., who is a ceremonial drum chief at Mille Lacs, a member of the elder advisory board, and one of the story authors, said, “We believe in our language and we believe in our native ways. Nobody can make these things live all alone, so I am proud of our tribe and our community for coming together to do something truly great. This is one of the best things we’ve done in a long time.” 

Josh Leventhal, Director of MNHS Press, added: “The work of language revitalization and preserving the stories of Ojibwe elders is such a critical piece of understanding the history of Minnesota and its people. MNHS Press is honored to be partnering with the Mille Lacs Band to share these stories and help preserve Ojibwe language and culture.”

More About the Mille Lacs Dialect of Ojibwe

The dialect of Ojibwe spoken at Mille Lacs is the southernmost dialect of the Ojibwe language and one of the most endangered dialects. Mille Lacs has identified 25 fluent first speakers left in their communities. All are at least 70 years old. Today there are 125 Ojibwe First Nations in Canada and Ojibwe communities in the United States across Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota, and one mixed Ojibwe-Cree community in Montana. The total Ojibwe population is over 250,000 people, but less than 30,000 speak the language. Fewer than 500 of those speakers reside in the United States, and the number of children who speak the language is very small. There are enough speakers to engage in meaningful revitalization work, but there is no time to waste. Mille Lacs has already started an Ojibwe immersion early childhood program and numerous other language enrichment opportunities. But the development of new resource materials is an effort to enable their living speakers today to teach future generations for hundreds of years to come.

Mille Lacs is Mobilized to Revitalize Ojibwe

The elder advisory board guiding the development of Rosetta Stone and Ojibwe books in Mille Lacs includes Joe Nayquonabe, Sr., Lee Staples, and Brenda Moose. This development was initiated by the Mille Lacs Band with broad community support.

Detailed Book Descriptions

Detailed descriptions of each book are posted to the pre-order pages for the books on Amazon for Akawe Niwii-tibaajim, Nishiimeyinaanig, and Anooj Inaajimod. All three books will also be available for purchase from the Minnesota Historical Society’s shops and online store as well as from booksellers.

For More Information

Questions about the Ojibwe language resource development can be directed to Tammy Wickstrom, Executive Director of the Aanjibimaadizing Program at Mille Lacs: [email protected] Questions about the release and marketing of the new books can be directed to Alison Aten or Josh Leventhal at the Minnesota Historical Society Press: [email protected] or [email protected] Questions about the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe can be directed to Kris Jensen or Vivian LaMoore: [email protected] or [email protected]

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