Amazing ‘talking’ dictionary project helps preserve Ojibwe
The Ojibwe Peoples Dictionary” opens doors to the sounds and
context of the indigenous Ojibwe language and will help preserve
There are many pathways to knowledge, including popular fiction.
So I’ll admit unabashedly that my enticing introduction to some
Ojibwe language comes not from a history text but
from Cork O’Connor, lead character in some of local author
William Kent Krueger’s best-selling novels. O’Connor, a
detective, is both Irish and Ojibwe.
I’m captivated especially by the Ojibwe’s spiritual practices
and their reverence of nature.
Yet I’ve wondered often how the Ojibwe words sprinkled through
his books sound.
Now, thanks to an amazing project in progress at the University
of Minnesota and spearheaded by their Department of American
Indian Studies, there’s a new online resource called
“The Ojibwe Peoples
Dictionary” that opens doors to the sounds and context of
the indigenous Ojibwe language and will help preserve it.
dictionary officially launches with a celebration event from 4
p.m. to 6 p.m. April 2 at the McNamara Alumni Center’s Maroon
and Gold room at the University in Minneapolis.
More than just a translation tool, the “talking” Ojibwe-English
dictionary, which so far boasts more than 30,000 Ojibwe words
spoken by native speakers, “sets the standard for how indigenous
languages will be learned and preserved into the future,’’ says
James A. Parente, Jr., dean of the university’s College of
Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe,’’
co-written by John D. Nichols, a professor in the University’s
American Indian Studies department. The dictionary is
an expansion of a printed volume with 7,000 words called “A
Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe,’’ co-written by
John D. Nichols, a professor in the University’s American Indian
Unlike the book dictionaries of
our past, with their simple line-drawing illustrations and, of
course, no audio, this resource is also a “gateway” leading to
related photographs and other documents in collections at the
Minnesota Historical Society, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and
Wildlife Commission and elsewhere, says Brenda Child, chairwoman
of the Department of American Indian Studies.
This, it seems, is a story that begs readers to click.
here, for example, the soft, beautiful sound of “boozhoo,”
the traditional Ojibwe greeting so often used by Krueger’s
native characters. Or listen to a native elder speak the Ojibwe
"moccasin" and you’ll realize how English speakers have
changed it. See photos and read explanations about
freezing and drying fish in traditional ways.
Child herself comes from an Ojibwe family and is one of the
current generation of American Indians for whom English is the
first language in this melting pot United States and so she sees
an imperative need to preserve what she calls this “heritage”
Though there are more than 200,000 Ojibwe people living in the
United States and Canada, including many in Minnesota and
Wisconsin, the Ojibwe language is fading in many areas as the
monolithic American culture and English envelope it, language
That’s even though the University of Minnesota and other schools
are teaching Ojibwe and Dakota language classes. About 50
students, for instance, are enrolled in Ojibwe classes at the UM
“If we lose our language, we lose our distinctiveness as a
people,’’ explains Brendan Fairbanks, an American Indian Studies
and Ojibwe language professor at the university. “Each language
represents a different pair of eyeglasses, how people see the
world. If you lose that language, you lose how that people see
Provocatively, he asks: “Do we have the right to say we are
Ojibwe if we don’t speak the language? Some argue not. Some
argue yes. If you don’t speak the language, how are you
different from everybody else, except for your skin-tone?”
Leona Wakonabo, 72, is one of the Ojibwe elders
whose voice is heard online pronouncing words in her native
language. She also teaches the language to elementary school
children at Niigaane Immersion School on the Leech Lake
Reservation in northern Minnesota.
After working with linguist Nichols for about four years on the
language project, she sees the dictionary as being tremendously
helpful. “I think that’s good for the young people, too, so
they’ll learn,” she says. “They would lose that Ojibwe language
if there’s no one there to teach them.’’
Interest in the language appears on many levels, not just among
the kindergarten pupils she teaches but adults as well. “When
I’m out somewhere, they come to me and say, ‘How do you say this
The audio dictionary, she says, also makes clear differences
among speakers from different regions, important because Ojibwe
is the umbrella language with about a dozen dialects.
The online dictionary is still under construction, a kind of
“first draft,” Child says, made available now so people can
start using it and for language teachers and native speakers to
Native Village Home Page
Village © Gina Boltz
To receive email notices of Native Village updates,
please send your email address to:
To contact us, email
Thank you to ALL the wonderful individuals, friends,
organizations, groups, news services and websites who share or donate their research, work, time and
talents to make Native Village possible
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed
without profit or payment for non-profit research, archival, news, and
educational purposes only.
NATIVE VILLAGE website was created for youth, educators, families, and friends
who wish to celebrate the rich, diverse cultures of The Americas' First Peoples.
We offer readers two monthly publications: NATIVE VILLAGE Youth and Education
News and NATIVE VILLAGE Opportunities and Websites. Each issue shares
today's happenings in Indian country. NATIVE VILLAGE also houses website
libraries and informational materials to enrich all lives on Turtle Island.
Unless otherwise noted, articles are written in full by the credited author at
the credited source link. We are responsible for format changes and additional
photos, art, and graphics which boost visual appeal and add dimension to
the reading experience. Pictures and graphics not appearing with the original
article are either credited on the page or by right-clicking the picture. Some
may be free or by sources unknown.
Please contact us with any copyright
corrections so we may properly credit the source.
We are not responsible for changes to outside websites and weblinks. Please
notify us if any problems arise.