University faculty push for Ojibwe, Dakota languages to become majors

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Some faculty members within the

University of Minnesota’s Department of American Indian Studies are

trying to preserve two languages indigenous to the state.

Currently, students don’t have the

option to major in Ojibwe or Dakota, the two languages offered within

the department. But with a recent push from veteran and new

professors, students may eventually be able to major in the

languages.

Brendan Fairbanks, a long-serving

assistant American Indian studies professor, said creating the option

to major in each of the languages would allow students studying the

languages to receive better jobs after graduation and would ensure

the languages stay alive.

If the languages remain used, she said

students who know them “can go on to teach their children the

language.”

University students can currently

receive teaching certificates – named the Dakota Iapi

Unspewicakiyapi and the Ojibwemodaa Eta! certificates – that allow

them to teach the languages at immersion schools.

Still, some say the creation of new

major programs for the languages could be beneficial.

Michelle Goose, who’s entering her

first year in the department as a teaching specialist, said making

the languages into their own separate majors is important so that

students can make good use of what they learn.

“We need to make the language more

relevant to students,” she said. “We need to make it something

they can use in their daily lives.”

Professors in the department hope

developing the language track into two new majors will make the

program more appealing to prospective students.

Because there isn’t a large demand

for Dakota and Ojibwe immersion school teachers in the state, the job

market is highly competitive, said former University student Liz

Cates, who received her Dakota teaching certificate last spring.

Though she currently works as a

teacher at a local immersion school, Cates said entering the job

force with a degree in Dakota would have been helpful when she was

searching for jobs.

Cates also said that having specific

majors for the languages will help preserve them and allow

instructors to better teach them to elementary students in immersion

schools.

“The more Dakota and Ojibwe students

who can major in their languages, the more able they are to bring

their gifts of speaking and teaching the language back to our

communities,” she said.

The process of creating the majors is

still in the early stages, department chair Jean O’Brien said,

though faculty members have big plans for the languages.

“We have a real need for

revitalization of the language as well as making sure it gets taught

in every context it needs to be at the higher level,” O’Brien

said.

According to the American Indian

studies department’s website, there was estimated to be only about

678 first-language speakers of the Ojibwe language and eight

first-language speakers of the Dakota language within those

communities in Minnesota in 2009.

Because of the sharp decline in people

who speak the languages, Cates said it’s important to keep the

languages alive.

“Any step that can be made to

increase accessibility and intensify language learning should be made

without hesitation, as time is running out,” Cates said.