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Leading the way with language: Ojibwe sessions offered during Red Lake Youth Leadership Conference

RED LAKE -- Seventh Generation Leaders are being celebrated at Red Lake High School this week. The school is hosting the 9th Annual Red Lake Youth Leadership Conference. The community and students from area schools are invited to engage in sessions discussing issues that affect today's youth.

Among the topics this year is the dwindling usage of Anishinaabe inwewin, the Ojibwe language.

"It's important to know the language, to be Anishinaabe," said Zack Earley with Red Lake Economic Development and Planning. "It is a very complex language, but it sounds familiar to English."

Earley -- along with Nate Taylor and Elder Frances "Frannie" Miller -- presented this year's Ojibwe language session.

On Wednesday, the trio mixed in the serious topic of Ojibwe literally becoming a lost language with humor and games to reintroduce high schoolers to the language that was part of their elementary school curriculum. Ojibwe is not taught regularly in middle school and high school. Ojibwe words flowed effortlessly from some students, while others took a little more care in sounding out the syllables.

"People should never be afraid of the language," Taylor said. "It belongs to all of you."

Taylor told the group he was born in Red Lake and moved away from home to Minneapolis. Taylor said during a period of soul searching, he turned to his language and starting teaching himself Ojibwe.

"It really gives you a sense of who you are when you look into language," Taylor said.

When Taylor returned home to Red Lake, he was concerned he would be behind on speaking the native tongue.

"I came back here and I was looking for all the young speakers. Where are they at?" Taylor explained. "I thought I'd be behind in the broke my heart."

In order to promote and preserve the Ojibwe language on the Red Lake reservation, Red Lake Economic Development will be starting an immersion school initiative in September. Taylor and Earley will be teaching the language starting with one three-year-old head start classroom.

Miller said the language is not spoken in as many homes as it should be, which is why the focus is on youth. The program is intended to grow by one classroom each year of operation. The curriculum will reflect dialog and culture unique to the Red Lake Nation.

"We have a lot of people in the four communities (Ponemah, Red Lake, Redby and Little Rock) who don't speak the language," Miller said. "We're losing a lot of people who have been instrumental in keeping it going."

Taylor added Red Lake has the largest population of speakers over the age of 50 in Minnesota. It is spoken more frequently in Ponemah that other communities.

Courses in Ojibwe are offered at Bemidji State University and there are online tools such as the Ojibwe Online Dictionary,, to aid in teaching oneself the language.

In addition to the language portion, the conference features sessions on hand drum making, cyber bullying, value of college education, self-esteem and how suicide and alcoholism affect families among keynote speakers on today.

Ceremonial drum group and prayer begin each day and a basketball tournament is held Wednesday through Friday. The Youth Conference banquet will take place 5 p.m. today at at Seven Clans Casino. A skateboard competition and hip-hop show will be held Friday prior to the basketball championship game at Red Lake High School.

The Red lake Youth Leadership Conference is sponsored by Red Lake Indian and Free Prevention Treatment Program, Red Lake Chemical Health Programs, Red Lake Tribal Council and the Red Lake School Board.


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