Jan 4, 2019 | By: Shirelle Moore

Golden Apple: Red Lake SD Aims To Have All Graduates Speak Conversational Ojibwe

The Red Lake School District is making sure culture plays a major role in their curriculum. To foster that movement, they’ve launched a five-year goal to have all of their graduates be able to speak conversational Ojibwe.

“We want to preserve our language. It’s on the verge of extinction and we want to build resiliency in our students for who they are, so they can identify who they are and learn their culture, learn their language,” says Dr. Giniwgiizhig, principal on the special assignment for language and culture with the school district.

“Our students are very vulnerable without our culture and our language, so it’s really really important that we say ‘miigwetch’ to our elders that are here and have been here for a long time,” says Rosemarie Debungie, an elder with Red Lake who helps teach some of the Ojibwe lessons.

Ojibwe signage is already all over the schools, but now, teachers will also start integrating everyday Ojibwe phrases into their lessons. The school district has even created a new website that anyone can access from home. The lessons go all the way from elementary school to the high school.

“Our kids are doing exceptionally better than they were last year, and we see that continuing and building as they move through. All of that was taught through the Red Lake Ojibwe culture and so it was using Red Lake stories, Red Lake history, Red Lake people,” says Melinda Crowley, the superintendent for the Red Lake School District.

The community plays an important role in the initiative. In fact, the Tribal Council, Red Lake School Board, and parents all have a part in planning the curriculum.

Sharon Kingbird, the Ojibwe language teacher for the Red Lake kindergarten, says, “We’re starting small and we’re going to expand that and we’re including everybody: the teachers, the custodians, the bus drivers, food service, everyone, the families, the children’s families!”

Officials are taking baby steps when it comes to learning the best ways to integrate the language, but staff agrees the way to succeed is to celebrate your roots.

“Our goal is to produce leaders of this nation, and so that’s why our community is also so important in the work that we do here in this school. It’s not just the teachers, it’s not just the staff, it’s not just the adults in the school system. It’s our whole community that’s really going to make this initiative work,” says Tracy Olson, the principal of Red Lake High School.

You can view the new Red Lake School District Ojibwe Language website here.

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