A new camp at Bemidji State University aims to spread the Ojibwe language throughout a younger generation.
"Something I read recently was, ‘A Frenchman is still a Frenchman even if he lives in China, because he speaks French,’ ” said Vincent Staples-Graves, an American Indian studies student at Bemidji State University who is serving as a camp counselor. "Really that's how I feel about language and the culture. The Ojibwe (are) living in America, but as long as you still speak Ojibwe, you're Ojibwe."
The five-day, four-night camp, called Niibinishi Gabeshi (summer camp), began Tuesday as high schoolers came together on campus to study the language and learn more about their culture.
"My grandma (read about) it in our local newspaper, and she kind of forcibly signed me up," said Bucky Tibbetts, 15, from the White Earth Nation. "But that's OK, it's been really fun."
Days include a two-hour language class, an evening language table session and craft work, such as learning to make Black Ash baskets.
Students, who stay overnight in campus dorms, also will read books and meet with local Ojibwe volunteers to delve further into the culture.
A half-dozen students have registered for the camp's inaugural year, but the hope is to grow interest and participation in future camps.
"We want everyone to leave here feeling empowered to be advocates for the language revitalization," said Angie Gora, summer program director for the university.
"A lot of that does come from building confidence," Staples-Graves said.
Fourteen-year-old Willow Miller of Bemidji knows something about that. For six years, she has been learning the language at the Niigaane Ojibwe Immersion School, operated by the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school.
Miller said the language was hard initially, but she has come to enjoy her school.
"I would like for them to feel comfortable speaking the language," Staples-Graves said about his goals for campers. "We're not going to be anywhere near fluent by any means, but even just feeling comfortable saying boozhoo (hello), miigwech (thank you) ... simple phrases, that is really the base of talking, of the culture itself. Just that they feel comfortable saying these things in everyday conversation.
"And to take away a little bit of knowledge about our history."