Bemidji¹s Ojibwe Language Project Seeks to Make Effort Irreversible
Permanent Signage Posted by Sanford Health, Schools, Others.
Bemidji¹s Ojibwe Language Project committee, affiliated with Shared Vision, is proud to announce that Sanford Health has begun to place Ojibwe/English signage throughout their complex, and that Bemidji area schools (ISD 31) have committed to placing bilingual signage in every single school building.
"It¹s hard to express the emotion I felt this week as we entered the front doors of the Sanford Medical Center and saw the first permanent English/Ojibwe signs in the building", said Ojibwe Language Project team member Rachelle Houle. "We are proud and yet so humbled that a small seed of an idea has grown, taken root, and is here to stay".
Houle along with team member Michael Meuers have spearheaded the Ojibwe Language Project.
While the Language Team was shooting photos of the signs at the hospital this past week, Vicki Howard, Director of Sanford Health¹s Indian Desk, told a story.
"An elder and fluent Ojibwe speaker entered the Sanford Medical Center and was taken aback by the signs she saw on the wall in the foyer", said Howard. "She was speechless and smiling as she read, in her native language of Ojibwe, which direction to take".
"It is stories like this that make our effort worthwhile", Houle added. "We realize that our signage project won¹t make everyone a fluent speaker of Ojibwe. That is not the point. What 'is' happening is a small step to learning more about our native neighbors. In turn, we hope it¹s a small step of letting them know we respect their culture."
"We are grateful to BSU Professor of Ojibwe, Anton Treuer who provided correct translations for the signs at the Sanford Medical Center", said Michael Meuers, who dreamt up the 'project' two years ago. "Anton has been our go-to guy for translations and spelling throughout this project."
Bemidji¹s Ojibwe Signage Project has now over 130 sites in Bemidji committed to post signage, and it continues to grow. But perhaps one of the more exciting organizations to sign on is Bemidji School District #31. "All principals have committe,", said Meuers, "High School, Middle School, the six elementary schools, and four other school sites."
Lincoln Elementary as well as Bemidji Middle school have already posted some bilingual (Ojibwe/English) signage. "Because Schools are hurting financially, Rachelle and I have committed ourselves to search for grants so that signage may be posted at the other ten school sites, and more signage added to Lincoln and the Middle School," said Meuers. "We really don¹t know, but we are thinking maybe ten to twelve thousand dollars might be needed. We will search until we find the money."
"We are very excited that schools are now participating in the Ojibwe Language Project," Houle commented. "This is all permanent signage which is our goal. Permanent signage hopefully will make this project irreversible,
and spread to other communities."
"Schools, this is where it all begins," Meuers added. "Schools have lots of traffic, every kid and most of their parents, in the entire community, will pass by these signs and hopefully peak their curiosity to learn more about the culture that 'is' northern Minnesota."
And the idea seems to be spreading. According to Walker Indian Education teacher Kathleen O¹Kelley, Walker Hackensack Akeley Schools has placed 240 Ojibwe/English signs throughout the elementary, middle and high schools with a donation from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community .
"This is a wonderful thing that has happened, because only a few years ago, Walker school was tagged as a very racist school," said O¹Kelley.
"Our hope is that Bemidji is known not only as the First City on the Mississippi, the city with statues of Paul and Babe, the city of the Sculpture Walk and Bemidji In Bloom, but also the city of Ojibwe Signage," said Houle.
":It has been fun to see the creativity of local business owners coming up with their own unique way of sharing the Ojibwe language," Houle observed. "For example, recently the Buy Line Shopper added 'Endazhi-manaaji'indwaa
Gakina Awiiya¹ to their masthead which means "Where all people are respected".
Many businesses and organization are trying new things with Ojibwe words demonstrating permanence, creativity, and fun. Beaver Books and others are using portable street ad signs to get their message across. Business owner
Brian Larson had his business name translated into Ojibwe Mezinibii'igaadegin Wenizhishingin (Amity Graphics).
Noemi Aylesworth of the Cabin Coffeehouse, (the first business to post Ojibwe/English signage) has headings on menus written in Ojibwe, such as Dekaagamingin (Cold Drinks), Gitigaanensan (Salads), Gigizhebaa-wiisining
(Breakfast), and more.
The Sanford Center has "Permanent" Ojibwe/English bi-lingual signage. All doors coming and going at the Sanford Center says Boozhoo (Hello) and Miigwech (Thank you) respectively. There are twelve pairs of restrooms in
Sanford Center, each posted with permanent signage with Men/Ininiwag or Women/Ikwewag. And the parking lot has animal images with names in both languages to help you find your car.
Last but not least, Bemidji State University continues to be a leader in this effort by posting first class permanent Ojibwe/English signage throughout both campuses. Bemidji State Park, Itasca State Park, MN DOT, and the DNR are also participating along with over 130 other businesses and organizations.
"One of our concerns when soliciting businesses and organizations to post bi-lingual signage, was permanence," noted Meuers. "We wanted plastic, vinyl, or metal; we are hoping paper signs are only temporary. We are so
excited, with Sanford Health, the schools, BSU, and others demonstrating leadership in posting permanent signage...and more. With efforts like this and the new creativity being shown, Bemidji will surely soon be known for
it's Ojibwe/English Signage."
Part of the Shared Vision¹s program vision is that the Bemidji community will embrace cultural understanding and respect between the Indian and non-Indian community.
After all, the vision of Shared Vision is that:
The Bemidji community will be a model for race relations in our state. We will embrace cultural understanding and respect between the Indian and non-Indian community, and strong participation of Indian people in every aspect of Bemidji community life. Bemidji will be known as a community that works together to expand opportunities for people of all races.
"We hope we are contributing to this vision in our own simple way of introducing Ojibwe signage to the Bemidji community," concluded Houle. "Thank you for your support."
Take a look at Bemidji¹s Ojibwe Language Project facebook page at:
The Shared Vision Initiative
Shared Vision was created with the support of Bemidji Area Race Relations Council, Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Nations, Bemidji Leads, City of Bemidji, Beltrami County, ISD #31, BSU, Blandin, Chamber of Commerce, NW Minnesota Foundation, the Nielson Foundation, and others. The Headwaters Regional Development Commission (HRDC) staffs Shared Vision.
Mission: Be a catalyst that encourages the Bemidji community to work together to expand social, economic, educational and leadership opportunity for people of all races.
In order to achieve the 'vision', four working groups were created. The four areas identified are: Economic Opportunities; Civic Participation and Leadership; Educational Attainment and Skill Development; and Cultural
Understanding and Respect.
One of several strategies identified by the Cultural Understanding group is to encourage Bemidji businesses and organizations to add Ojibwe and English signage at their work sites. Shared Vision members Michael Meuers and
Rachelle Houle are spearheading this strategy.