Ojibwe language division making return to performing arts festival

Duane Hicks

Registration for the Rainy River District Festival of the Performing Arts is underway, with this year marking the reintroduction of the Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) language division to the 79th-annual event.
After being absent from the festival for a number of years, the committee was asked to consider reviving the division as part of a larger initiative to bring the Anishinaabemowin language back to the district.
Committee member Joanne Davis said she was at a presentation delivered by Shannon King, Anishinaabemowin curriculum co-ordinator at the Seven Generations Education Institute, about a strategy to bring the language “back in the home”–whether through adult learning, family learning, day cares, and schools.
“I thought, ‘We have English, we have French, why don’t we have an Anishinaabemowin division?'” Davis noted.
“I presented it to the committee and they said, ‘Yeah, sure, let’s do it.’
“I feel it’s very important,” she added. “The kids are learning two languages, aside from English, in the schools and we do live in a multi-cultural community.
“It’s really important for us to be inclusive, and for children who are learning the language–Anishinaabemowin–to have a chance to share it, just like all of the other kids are having the opportunity to share the language they’re learning,” Davis reasoned.
King agreed, noting, “It’s a great opportunity for those young and old to display all of the things that they’re learning, and to show pride in our language and in bringing it back.”
It’s also a chance not only for Anishinaabemowin speakers who are still here to hear a new generation using their language, but to expose all district residents “to such a beautiful language that we really want to bring back and, ultimately, need to come back,” King added.
Davis and King formed a subcommittee dedicated to making the Anishinaabemowin language division a reality in time for this year’s festival, which will run throughout the month of April.
“I’ve had really great representation from both school boards and Seven Gens, as well,” Davis said.
“We’ve had lots of language teachers come out to the meetings, just to gauge what the interest is and bring their expertise to the table,” she explained.
“They have been really supportive of this moving forward,” she noted. “I am hoping that the people that have come to this committee will kind of take it and make it their own.
“We are just starting something, and I am hoping that the parties that have come to the committee so far will take it forward and make it great,” Davis reiterated.
“I’m excited about it.”
King said it’s important to highlight the collaboration between the festival and local indigenous organizations such as Seven Gens, and credited Davis for coming forward and recognizing the opportunity to build a relationship.
“For Joanne, that was such a great step. It was her idea,” King lauded. “We tried to get together as many people to make this a go.
“Not only is this about learning, hearing, and giving people the opportunity, but highlighting that partnership, the working together of communities,” she added.
The Anishinaabemowin language strategy is a partnership between Seven Gens, the Rainy River District School Board, and “Say It First,” and funded by the Ministry of Education.
How to participate
Participation in the Anishinaabemowin language division at the festival is open to students in kindergarten-Grade 12, as well as adults.
“We’re mostly working with the schools,” Davis noted. “So we’re working with both school boards and hoping that all of the language teachers in all of the schools across the district will be supported by the school board to bring their classes to the festival and to share what they’re learning.”
King said Seven Gens is reintroducing the language at all levels–from pre-school children to adults–and the festival is hoping some of the adults who are learning the language for the first time will come and share what they’re learning with the district, as well.
“We have an adult Anishinaabemowin revitalization program,” she noted. “There are roughly 20 students between the Fort Frances campus and a few in-community programs.
“Right now, they’re currently working toward writing and learning Anishinaabemowin,” King added.
“I’ve already sent the link to them in hopes that maybe a couple of them will be interested in displaying what they’ve learned.
“They’re working really hard. They’re there five days a week, six hours a day, learning our language in hopes they become teachers or police officers,” King said, noting the former is especially important as more Anishinaabemowin teachers are needed to spread knowledge of the language locally.
Depending on the age group, categories (also known as classes) include choral speaking, solo delivery (poetry), self-composition poetry, and solo prose reading/storytelling.
All of the details are outlined in the syllabus, which is available online at the “Forms, Fees and Resources” page of the festival’s website (ff-festival.com).
Looking ahead, Davis and King plan to form a subcommittee to create an Anishinaabemowin resource manual for festival entrants.
Such manuals already exist for the English and French language divisions.
“So we had aspirations to create a resource manual but it’s a huge undertaking,” Davis admitted.
“Shannon is going to help me create a subcommittee and hopefully we’re going to put together a resource manual for people to reference for next year,” she noted.
The deadline for all festival entries is Friday, Feb. 22.
Festival competition will begin in April, with the dates as follows:
•April 1-5–Piano;
•April 8-10–Vocal;
•April 11-12–Drama & Speech Arts (French);
•April 15-16–Drama & Speech Arts (English);
•April 17-18-Drama & Speech Arts (Ojibwe); and
•April 25-26-Instrumental.
The date for the annual “Highlights” concert is still to be determined.