A student at Nevis School has made sharing the Ojibwe language with younger students her personal mission.

Carol Keezer is a sophomore with Anishinaabe heritage who has been working with the school’s American Indian liaison Mel Buckholtz to learn Ojibwe through an individual study class.

“We go over different vowels and sounds using the University of Minnesota website,” Buckholtz said.

Buckholtz said, while he reads Ojibwe, he does not consider himself fluent in the language. “We have very few fluent speakers,” he said. “I’m hoping someday I’ll get to that point.”

He said Keezer is excited to share what she is learning with others.

“She came and told me one afternoon that she had permission to use a bulletin board in the elementary hallway for Ojibwe words, and the next morning had it been done already,” he said.

Keezer goes into elementary classrooms to help students learn simple Ojibwe words. She made 10-page coloring books with Ojibwe words for animals to use with younger students.

“I’ve been working with elementary students for the past two months,” she said. “I grew up in Park Rapids not really knowing much about my culture, but I am learning it now with Mel.”

“Some of the little guys are really picking up on the Ojibwe words,” Buckholtz said.

Second graders Isaiah Buckholtz, Hunter White and Reese Miller talked about how they have been learning Ojibwe. While she is not Ojibwe, Miller said she likes the coloring and learning the Ojibwe names for the animals.

Isaiah Buckholtz said his dad (Mel) teaches him things at home, like counting, and that he likes learning new words at school too.”

“Some of the kids remember words from when your dad came in our room, but sometimes they forget,” Hunter White said. “I know Gawein. It means no. My mom says that at home. I’m Ojibwe, and I love frybread and chicken wild rice.”

Keezer said her next bulletin board is going to feature winter words. “I think it would be really cool to show students beadwork, too,” she said.

Teachers embrace Ojibwe learning

$22,000 in American Indian grant funding awarded last fall is providing other learning opportunities in the Nevis district as well.

“Where we’re at right now is way ahead of where I thought we might be at this point,” Buckholtz said. “Things have been going great. Teachers have been super supportive and willing to try things. We’re excited.”

In the fifth grade classroom, a parent made fry bread and wild rice. “Part of their STEM project for the month was building a teepee out of string and newspaper and Carol helped with that too,” he said.

A mentor provides supplemental reading experiences with second grade American Indian students and a variety of books by American Indian authors have been added to the library and classrooms.

A middle school English class is reading Anishinaabe creation stories. “The whole class asked for it, not just our Native students,” Buckholtz said. “It’s our belief. It doesn’t mean your belief is wrong. Your belief is you and that’s o.k. But students will start noticing some of the similarities (between Anishinaabe and Christian creation stories). And hopefully it’s not just believing what your parents tell you to believe. You get to make that choice.”

Nevis teachers Tiffany Besonen and LouAnn Muhm are planning taking some Native American students to a bead artist and the “I Am Anishinaabe” fashion and craft show in Bemidji as well.

Drumming and smudging

American Indian high school students went on a field trip to the Leech Lake Tribal College in Cass Lake that included a drum ceremony.

Looking toward the future, Buckholtz said he would like to have a drum group presentation that includes grass dancers, traditional dancers and jingle dancers.

“We want to promote understanding of diversity,” he said.

Buckholtz also plans to hold a smudging ceremony for the older American Indian students who choose to gather around in a prayer circle around the school’s flagpole, as allowed by law.

“It will be voluntary and if kids want to come out and do it with their parent permission we have the ok to do it,” he said.

Smudging involves burning sage and cedar and smudging with a feather. “I’ll use my feather to waft the smoke over them and they’ll take it in and hopefully get a little more centered and calmer for getting their day started,” he said. “It’s cleansing and helps you see things more clearly. I know when I’ve done smudging it makes me feel a lot better.”

Why Treaties Matter

Nevis School will host the “Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations” exhibit March 22-29. The display will be available for viewing during the school day as well as the evenings of parent teacher conferences that week