Sokaogon Chippewa Community News
Race Against the Clock: School Fighting to Save Ojibwe Language Before Elders Pass
In the deep forest of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal reservation, sixth-grade teacher Lisa Clemens abruptly halts the group of children behind her and points to the bald eagle circling just above the pines.
“Migizi!” Clemens yells. “Migizi!” her students shout back.
The sunny morning in early March is the first time many of the students and teachers of Waadookodaading, Wisconsin’s only Ojibwe immersion school, have been together since Covid-19 struck.
Waadookodaading means “a place where people help each other” in Ojibwe, the language of people indigenous to the Great Lakes region of Canada and the US upper midwest. At the school, the forest is the children’s classroom. Harvesting maple sap and wild rice turn into math lessons on calculating volume. They learn biology from the fish they catch, clean and eat.
From its start 21 years ago, the school’s work was imbued with the urgency to pass Ojibwe on to a new generation before the few remaining Native speakers have died, taking with them the keys to an endangered language and the lessons it offered a post-colonized world.
But the pandemic upended nearly every aspect of life for the tight-knit Tribal community. Covid has hit Native American communities harder than any other group, killing American Indians and Alaskan Natives at almost twice the rate of white Americans, figures showed in February. Patterns in Wisconsin mirrored national trends.