Native languages and cultures are at a critical point in their existence. Worldwide, improved education and employment outcomes and greater life satisfaction have been linked to identifying and engaging in Indigenous cultural activities. The Mille Lacs Dialect of Ojibwe is an Endangered Language and must be preserved and revitalized in order to support prevention, recovery, and healthy lifestyle choices.
The Ojibwe language in Minnesota as a whole is listed as “severely endangered.” (UNESCO, 2010). There are very few Ojibwe speakers left. Today Ojibwe is mainly spoken by elders over the age of 70. Even when not considering the continuing pandemic – COVID-19 disproportionality affects Indigenous communities, as well as the elderly – the number of first language speakers is expected to decline significantly in the next five years.
In 2019, approximately 25 elders were identified as fluent speakers at Mille Lacs. That number is decreasing by approximately 10 percent every year. As time goes on, revitalization efforts of any size will become increasingly difficult.
Native languages are more than just words, as cultural values, tribal customs, and ceremony are embedded in them. Additionally, Indigenous languages serve as protective factors for Indigenous communities.
Psychology Professor Gary Lupyan studies how language influences people’s thoughts. His studies show that the language a person speaks determines which aspects of life they attend to and that language is also crucial to culture.
Cumulative culture is the ability for a generation to start from a place of higher advancement by benefiting from their ancestors’ knowledge. Lupyan states language is a key part of this. “In the absence of language, you can’t really have too much in the way of complex culture because so much of what we learn culturally, we learn through language.”
Language has vital cultural ties, serving as a connection to historic songs and teachings. Professor Brian McInnes, and enrolled Ojibwe member in Wisconsin states, “When you have that connection, you have a tremendous inner strength and you don’t ever have to question who you are or why you’re here because you have that within you,”
At Mille Lacs, we know that gaining knowledge of our Ojibwe language and culture as well as participation in cultural activities has played a significant role in the wellbeing and success of our community. Knowledge of language and culture builds confidence and self-esteem.
This positively correlates to all aspects of life and has a multi-generational impact that benefits families. Studies demonstrate that people who speak their Native language(s) have enhanced mental health and happiness, measured by lower rates of suicide. It especially contributes to the recovery of those suffering from addiction, rehabilitation after periods of incarceration, recovery of survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.
- Preserve our endangered language.
- Support development of client self-esteem, pride in identity and wellness by offering life-long Ojibwe language and culture learning opportunities.
- Normalize Ojibwe Language and cultural use in the community.
- Support workforce development by creating life-long Ojibwe language learning opportunities.
- Support youth substance abuse prevention and support clients struggling with addiction or recovery.
Holistically healthy people grow holistically healthier people. This investment is for the long-term support of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe to retain our unique identity, language (dialect) stories, and sovereignty.
To learn more about the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Aanjibimaadizing Language and Culture Revitalization Project visit: https://www.culture.aanji.org/about/