Keeping the Language Alive – The Manitoulin Expositor
Osawamick Ranch, an immersive Anishnaabemowin land-based learning camp
WIIKWEMKOONG—At Wiikwemkoong’s Osawamick G’Tiganning, Anishnaabe Enji-Teg Osawamick Ranch, the Anishnaabemowin language and culture are always front and center.
“It’s a place where people can come and listen and learn from fluent speakers of the Anishnaabemowin language and learn the language while listening, cooking or participating in other activities they would do in their daily lives,” said said Nicole Van Stone, Osawamick’s program manager. G’Tigaaning, Anishnaabe Enji-Teg Osawamick Ranch.
The opening of the Anishnaabemowin School follows news from the 2021 Canadian Census that shows around 243,000 people reported being able to speak an Indigenous language, a drop from the 2016 Census when that figure was approximately 251,000. There has been a significant increase over the same period in the number of children aged eight or younger who can speak an Aboriginal language. It was the only statistic across all the different age categories to show an overall increase.
The fragility of Indigenous languages has long been a concern. Depending on the language, some indigenous communities say they have only a limited number of speakers left. Census data suggests that among people aged 94 or older, the number of native language speakers fell to 120 last year from 575 in 2016, while among the interwar generation of aged 76 to 93, this number fell from 14,120 to 9,230.
“An elder said we don’t lose our language, our language loses us,” Ms Van Stone said. “The number of speakers of the language is decreasing, while more and more people want to learn the language. The Osawamick Ranch provides a place to learn language and cultural teachings where people can feel at home and in a safe environment.
The official opening of the facility at the end of August is well received by Aboriginal leaders. Barbara Nolan, Languages Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation (who is originally from Wiikwemkoong) says: “everything, all the activities of the house will be done in the language. People will be able to learn from language experts, while learning the language and participating in cultural activities. »
“This school is huge for developing and dramatically increasing the number of people who know the language, especially for young children, that’s where it has to start, with the children,” Ms Nolan said.
“It’s a very good thing and I’d like to think that politicians around the world should keep an eye on it,” said Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare. “We love our language, and our own language school has now been opened in the community, and it’s our people doing it ourselves. And I hope more will be opened across the province.
“This place is awesome,” said Chef Hare. “I hope the federal government will provide financial support for these types of facilities.”
Osawamick G’Tigaaning, Anishnaabe Enji-Teg is a year-round language immersion camp located in Wiikwemkoong. It is the vision of Beverley Naokwegijig and is inspired by the Mary Murray Culture Camp in Sugar Island, Michigan, where she worked for many years.
Osawamick G’Tigaaning’s efforts to create a safe space for Anishnaabemowin immersion learning and to bring languages to life while reconnecting with culture will have a huge and positive impact on individuals, families and communities. Statistics and studies have shown that the most effective and fastest way to heal is to reconnect with language and culture.
Ms. Naokwegijig said she had dreamed of having such a language house built in Wiikwemkoong for many years. “In 2011, we launched the Mary Murray Cultural Camp on Sugar Island, Michigan. My sister Pat and I cooked and my sister Barbara was one of the many teachers teaching the language.
“All these years at the camp I said ‘we should have something like Wiikwemkoong’,” Ms Naokwegijig said. The newly renovated house and the freshly built cabins were his dream. She inherited the property and some money from her uncle (Bernard Osawamick, who died in 2019) who had stayed with his family for many years.
His uncle gave him some money when he died. He did, “probably because I told him all the time that I could fix this house and make it a house for language learning,” Ms Naokwegijig said.
“Everyone seemed to be saying the house should be condemned,” Ms Van Stone said. “But that’s thanks to Bev, who is tenacious and knew what she wanted. She used the money her uncle gave her in his will and she used a lot more of her own money to renovate the house. The majority was due to Bev and it was done in her memory.
Ms Naokwegijig told The Expositor that major work needed to be done on the house (and cabins), such as a new roof and all new bathroom fittings.
Osawamick G’Tigaaning aims to connect people to traditional language and culture. Ensure the preservation and revitalization of culture and language and create and provide a safe space to speak the language in an immersive setting with four to five day programs, including meals and accommodation, “for facilitate learning engagement and a sense of accomplishment and advancement after your time at the ranch.
Ms. Van Stone said: “We have been running cultural programs here since March, starting with the Sugar Bush cultural programs. We have organized a women’s retreat and a children’s program is organized every Wednesday and Thursday, as well as the making of dreamcatchers, moccasins, medicine kits, ribbon skirts and the presence of medical teachers here , for example,” Ms. Van Stone said. “We also organize traditional teachings and sweat lodges. There are a number of Wiikwemkooong elders who come and they talk or teachers come to give the teachings.
“There is also soup and scone available for anyone wishing to drop in from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., every Sunday,” Ms Van Stone said. “And we find for all of our events a lot of people coming, all with different language abilities, from beginners to those fluent in the Anishnaabe language.”
“We are here to provide language and cultural lessons in a safe and comfortable learning environment,” added Van Stone.