Anishinaabemowin has a long-standing history and importance in the district, as it is the first language of the Ojibwe-Anishinaabeg and it was the language of trade for generations in this territory before being targeted for extinction.
In the early 1900s, when colonization began in Canada as a means of accessing territory and resources, the residential school system was introduced in an effort to sever indigenous peoples’ connection to their culture, language, and land.
At that time, Anishinaabemowin was almost lost entirely. Today, the tide is turning.
To celebrate, honour and respect the language, the 20th-annual “Quest For Knowledge” (Gagwe-gikendamaawiziwin) was held at Rainy River First Nations last Wednesday.
“We’re working to lift the language right across the generations,” said a Seven Generations Education Institute staff member who helped with facilitating the language competition.
“This event is for the students to demonstrate amongst peers what they’re learning on their learning journey and to have fun.”
Students competed in a series of fun competition style games such as Mazinibii’an Gaye Nisidotan which was similar to Pictionary where teams of students guessed Anishinaabemowin words being drawn by teams.
The Oko-aabajitooyang Anishinaabemowin station was a Jeopardy-style game testing students’ knowledge of the language and verb conjugation.
Wiiji’idiyok Ji-ozhitooyeg Oshki-ikidowinan had students help each other create new Anishinaabemowin words while the Gaa-nitaa-anishinaabemoyan portion of the event had students speak Anishinaabemowin skillfully in front of judges.
The final station, Aabajitoon minik gegoo ezhi-gikendaman, was where students constructed something connected to history or culture and presented it using Anishinaabemowin.
The event was judged by elders across the territory, coming from Northwest Bay, Manitou Rapids, and Onigaming to name a few, with some coming from as far away as Lac La Croix.
Around 150 students participated from nine school across the district.
To help run the event, 20 Anishinaabemowin adult language revitalization students from Seven Generations and 15 Seven Generations staff volunteered their time.
For the junior division of the language competition, Crossroads School landed third, while Robert Moore placed second, and St. Francis took first.
In the senior division Robert Moore received third, Mine Centre placed second and St. Francis took home first, carrying forward a four year winning streak for the senior team.
“Overall the students were grateful with the outcome because they had put forth much time and effort into preparing their presentations and learning/reviewing for the games,” said St. Francis native as a second language teacher Karen Papineau.
“I felt proud of both the [junior and senior] teams because of the effort they put into their classwork and preparing for the event.”
Papineau said it’s crucial to teach the Anishinaabemowin language to younger generations because of its history and the fact it was almost lost entirely not long ago.
The community is grateful for all of the teachers who help keep the language alive and well among their students.
“The language teachers . . . they are the real miracle workers,” a Rainy River First Nations community member lauded. “They work so hard passing the language on and I hope they know how much they are appreciated.”
Language and culture are intertwined so celebrating and promoting indigenous language is another way of uplifting the culture as a whole, a SGEI staff member shared.
“The way that someone once explained it to me was—language is like a table and there’s many things on top of that table,” he said.
“There’s identity, there’s the ceremonies, there’s a unique way of seeing the world, there’s values, there’s responsibilities and it’s all inside of the language,
“So when we lift the language, we lift identity, we lift confidence, we lift self esteem,” he added.
The SGEI cultural facilitator’s favourite part of the “Quest For Knowledge” is seeing the confidence and pride in the students who demonstrate the Anishinaabemowin language.
“It’s pride of the best sort,” he remarked. “It’s really seeing the beauty within the language… that we all share.”
“And really lifting that pride in something that was almost taken away just a few generations ago,” he added.
Seven Generations language revitalization student helper, Evelyn Johnson, attended the “Quest For Knowledge” in her youth and helped facilitate the event this year to assist in pushing the Anishinaabemowin language forward.
“I like how different communities come together, that’s the number one thing,” Johnson noted.
“We all have lunch together and we meet a lot of new people—I think that’s most important.”
Johnson said the friendships that are made at the event is what makes it special and unique.
Having the elders present is another piece of the language competition she enjoys.
“That’s very important because eventually we’re going to have to be the ones that take over and this is teaching the younger ones too,” Johnson explained.
“It’s a teaching tool for them to carry this on, so that’s pretty cool.”
The timing of widespread language revitalization is also happening while there are a number of bills going through parliament right now such as Bill C-91, which is an act aimed at respecting indigenous languages.
Bill C-262 is also going through the house and seeks to require the federal government to take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous People with language as a key element.
SGEI staff were happy to celebrate the event’s 20th year and the Anishinaabemowin language as a whole.
They are thankful to those who contributed their time to help make the event possible and look forward to helping organize it again next year.