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Ojibwe Educator Leslie Harper to Present Carleton Convocation on the Preservation of Native Culture
Submitted by Jessica Paxton on Fri, 10/26/2012 - 3:49pm
Carleton College will present Leslie Harper, a Native American educator and director of a language immersion program for Ojibwe children, as its weekly convocation speaker on Friday, Nov. 2. Harper will discuss her work helping to preserve the Ojibwe language, which she considers integral to her people’s culture. Convocation is held from 10:50-11:50 a.m. in the Skinner Memorial Chapel, and it is free and open to the public. Convocations are also streamed live and archived and can be viewed online at go.carleton.edu/convo.
Harper, who is Ojibwe, grew up wanting to understand the elders of her tribe who spoke their native language, and she ultimately studied the language as an adult. However, she soon realized that she had very few people to talk to—there are perhaps 100 people in Minnesota today who speak Ojibwe as a first language, and most of them are relatively old. Harper has since worked to increase fluency in Ojibwe, believing that knowing it helps give children a stronger sense of their own identity. The efforts of people like Harper have helped Ojibwe avoid the fate of the thousands of Native American languages that have gone extinct.
Niigaane, the elementary school program Harper helped found, has been active for over a decade at the tribally-run Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. Harper believes it is impossible to really learn a language through occasional sessions in the classroom. In the Niigaane program, all classes are taught in Ojibwe from kindergarten through sixth grade. The program pairs teachers, who learned Ojibwe as a second language, with elders who speak it as a native tongue. Despite early challenges—for example, many of the elders hadn’t spoken Ojibwe in years and had no words to express modern concepts—the program has become a success and draws students from all over northern Minnesota. More information can be found at www.bugonaygeshig.wordpress.com/niigaane/.
The Leech Lake Indian Reservation, the largest in Minnesota with over 10,000 residents, is located around 200 miles northwest of Minneapolis. Language immersion programs in Ojibwe and Dakota have also been offered to preschoolers in Minneapolis, and both languages are now offered to students at the University of Minnesota through its Department of American Indian Studies.
This Native American Heritage Convocation is sponsored by the Office of Intercultural and International Life. For more information about this event, including disability accommodations, contact the Carleton College Office of College Relations at (507) 222-4308. Skinner Memorial Chapel is located on First Street between College and Winona Streets in Northfield.