Band Member Voices — An Intro to Ojibwe Language Learning


By Nazhike Mille Lacs Band Member

As I was beginning my Ojibwe Language Learning, I would put words together with good intentions, but deep down, they did not feel right. I was having issues connecting what I heard as a child and what I thought in my own mind. I knew English seemed insufficient to express my thoughts. The Ojibwe language was very comforting even though I was not understanding what was said. I was in a life crisis and I knew that the Ojibwe language was going to save me. Somehow.

My deep yearning led me to ask questions. And the more I learned, the more I wanted to know. And the more I learn, yet today, the more I realize that I don’t know. There is still quite a bit that I don’t know that I don’t even know. Some questions I don’t know how to ask. One thing I did learn is that the Ojibwe language is expressive and descriptive. I changed my questions from ”How do you say...?” to ”How do I express...?” This has led to deeper understandings and rooted connection to more than my way to communicate. It has led to a way to feel, to see the world and to interact with Manidoog.

The deep yearning. What does that mean? For me, I had a pull, an attraction and a propulsion to seek the language. I could not understand it. It was more than knowing what was being said. It was more than learning how to speak to Elders. It was knowing who I am as an Anishinaabe. Like a magnet being pulled to another, it must have been my spirit’s last-ditch effort to save itself. I was in a life crisis, remember? Although I did not understand at the time, I trusted the pull.

In the beginning, what I thought I was going to learn ended up not being what I was learning. I got frustrated. I thought that I am not meant for the language (internal oppression). I thought I was going to be able to poetically combine words with such tempo one would be able to think that I have been speaking since birth. That definitely was not the case. An example of unreasonable expectations that my subconscious uses to further demonstrate that I am incapable of knowing the language. Internalized trauma that I further uncovered.

I thought I was going to learn how to just communicate. I knew no better. I didn’t know I was going to need to change the way I feel about myself. I was going to need to change how I feel about and view the world. I was going to need to address the embedded historical trauma. I wanted to say ”I am hungry” and tell funny jokes that seemed to cause my Elders to ROTFL.

The Ojibwe language is meant for the Anishinaabe whether born and raised on the rez or relocated two generations before. The Manidoog already gifted it to us. It is already in you. You need to remove the trauma, internal oppression, and free yourself from the americanized view of the world. Then Intro to Ojibwemowin takes on a whole new meaning. Miigwech.