Learning Center Opens

July 19, 2000

Source: Star Tribune

On July 19, 2000, the Star Tribune published an article entitled "Language is Path to World of Ojibwe; A New Learning Center in Rutledge, Minn., Immerses Participants in the Ojibwe Tongue and Culture." When Larry Smallwood "saw a group of people trying to carry out an Ojibwe ceremony even though they couldn't speak the language," he knew what he had to do. "The creator gave us each an assignment, and mine is to teach language and culture," he said. "The ceremonies are supposed to be done in the language given to us, and that's not happening anymore." He estimates that "only about 30 percent of the 3,300 Mille Lacs band members are fluent in Ojibwe--and most of them, like him, are over 50 years old. The gradual dying out of their native tongue has concerned many elders who worry that their culture might disappear with them. To counter that trend, Smallwood and other band members created the Ojibwe Language Immersion Grounds in Rutledge, Minn." The Center recently opened on 70 acres of land between three districts of Mille Lacs land. Participants will be able to choose between a three day beginners' workshop or a five day advanced workshop, where they will practice complete immersion in Ojibwe language and culture. "The only way to learn the language is complete immersion. We want people to leave their English over by them trees," Smallwood said, pointing to the entrance of the grounds. "If we go fishing down in the creek, it will be in Ojibwe. If we build a fire, it will be in Ojibwe."

A young girl who has learned some basic Ojibwe in her reservation school said that "When someone says something to me in my language and I don't know what they said, I feel embarrassed. I think kids my age want to learn the language so they can speak to the elders." Lee Staples, an elder on the center's overview committee, highlighted another reason: "It is healing to totally embrace your spirit and who you are by speaking your language," Staples said. "It's like coming home."