News / Canada

Ojibwe language classes keep aboriginal language alive in Winnipeg

For Dawnis Kennedy, learning to speak Ojibwe is about so much more than just learning a language.

“I want to be who I was born to be,” said 38-year-old Kennedy, who is of Ojibwe decent.

“And without the language how do I understand that and see that?”

Kennedy spent last week taking part in the Language Immersion Camp at the University of Winnipeg’s Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre.

The week-long program taught Ojibwe language skills in a classroom, but also had participants go out and do activities while speaking the language.

Kennedy’s grandparents spoke the language when she was a kid, but she didn’t learn it well enough to speak it, which was difficult for her.

“I’d stay up and night and listen to them speak the language, and I loved the sound of it, and dreamed of being able to speak it.

“This is a way to bring full meaning to my life, and bring me even closer to my culture.”

Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre manager Jarita Greyeyes believes the program broke new ground.

“This is the first time we know of an adult Ojibwe immersion program offered in an urban setting,” said Greyeyes, who said people came from all over Manitoba and even from the U.S. to take part.

The program saw participants do things such as jiu jitsu and yoga classes, and learn about plants and animals at Assiniboine Park, all while speaking the language.

“We learn the language, but then we go out and we use it,” said Greyeyes.

Greyeyes is also encouraged that young people participated, because she said it’s important for youth to know the language as a way to keep it alive for future generations.

The program was offered through a partnership between the University of Manitoba, the Spence Neighborhood Association and the University of Winnipeg.

It was offered for free thanks to funding from the Dr. Tobasonakwut Kinew Fund for the promotion of Indigenous Culture, History and Language, as well as the Department of Canadian Heritage.

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