The Dakota and Ojibwe Language Programs of the Department of American Indian Studies are designed to preserve and revitalize knowledge and understanding that is contained and transmitted in Minnesota’s Indigenous Languages. The effort is part of a global indigenous movement to revitalize indigenous languages and cultures with the understanding that all language present a valuable perspective and knowledge of the world.
The Dakota and Ojibwe languages are indigenous to Minnesota, and like many other indigenous languages in the US, have become endangered due to the effects of boarding schools, and policies which prohibited their use. As of 2009 in Minnesota, it is estimated that there are 678 first-language speakers of the Ojibwe language and 8 first language speakers of the Dakota Language, within those communities. While a small number of these speakers are in their fifties, most are over the age of sixty. The number of native speaking Dakota/Ojibwe speakers is rapidly decreasing.
In order to meet the community need for language speakers, the American Indian Studies department is currently developing certificate programs for language teaching: The Dakota Iapi Unspewicakiyapi, and the Ojibwemodaa Eta! certificates. In these programs, our goal is to prepare our students (i.e. prospective teachers) for the rigors of an immersion classroom. In other words, our students will develop a level of fluency in the language that will allow them to conduct immersion classrooms entirely in the language. We also want to strengthen the pipelines between our language program and state teaching licensure programs, or institutions that need immediate certified language teachers. This will provide our graduates with careers and attract prospective speakers/teachers the community. Funding for the establishment of the Dakota Iapi Unpewicikiyapi source from the State 2007 Higher Education Omnibus Bill.
The Dakota and Ojibwe Language Programs also offer a financial aid program for University of Minnesota degree-seeking undergraduates, and non-degree seeking Continuing Education students who demonstrate strong dedication to learning to speak and teach the Dakota/Ojibwe language. Preference is given to students of Dakota/Ojibwe heritage, who demonstrate financial need, and are parents of children in a Dakota/Ojibwe language immersion program.
In a 2008 collaboration with Dakota community members in southwestern Minnesota, the Dakota Language Program launched a distance-learning component to our program, utilizing web technology to give students in rural southern Minnesota the opportunity to participate in Twin Cities language courses in 2 satellite classrooms at the Upper, and Lower Sioux Communities.
Language Practicum students earn college credits and a small stipend assisting a fluent elder and/or an apprentice speaker in a community Dakota/Ojibwe language classroom. The practicum provides teaching experience for the student as well as an opportunity to improve language skills. It also benefits community programs by providing them with much-needed classroom assistance, and possible future employees. Students have served their practicum at Wicoie Nandagikendan Ojibwe/Dakota Immersion Program sites, the only immersion program in the Twin Cities metro area, that includes Anishinabe Academy and Four Directions Family Center in South Minneapolis.