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Fort William First Nation relaunches Anishinaabemowin Program

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Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Elder Laura Calmwind, centre, shared an Anishinabemowin prayer with the Anishinaabemowin Program class on Jan. 18 in the Cultural Room at the Fort William First Nation Community Centre.

By Rick Garrick

FORT WILLIAM — Fort William First Nation relaunched its Anishinaabemowin Program featuring Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Elder Laura Calmwind on Jan. 18 after the long-running language program was shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re visual learners, Anishinabe people, and we’re also hands-on learners,” says Calmwind, who has taught the Anishinaabemowin Program for about seven years. “Our Indigenous pedagogy was through storytelling, and then through storytelling we learned the language, and then also being out on the land we learned to experience the language. So that’s the type of teaching I like to do but because we’re in a time where people are just regaining the use of their language, we have to start from the beginning and do the written language and then gradually transition into oral.”

The first class of the Anishinaabemowin Program, which is scheduled for 10 weeks other than the March break week on Wednesday evenings beginning on Jan. 18 at the Fort William First Nation Community Centre, involved each of the learners being asked in turn to pronounce an Anishinaabemowin word from an Anishinaabemowin prayer and then discuss its meaning in English with the class.

“If you want to learn that [prayer], you can use that, because each and every one of you, even these little ones here coming up, there’s going to be a time when you’re going to do your prayers,” Calmwind says during the class, noting that she told Fort William Elder Sheila Decorte, one of the learners, when they first started the program that she would be called upon to do opening protocols in the future. “I see her now all over the place doing opening protocols, and you see how important that is that you learn how to do protocols.”

Decorte says she first attended the Anishinaabemowin Program when it began in about 2014.

“Laura’s been the cultural teacher for all that time,” Decorte says. “We’ve had people come and go but we have our constant students, too. Laura has brought a lot to our community in the way of the language, but it’s not just the language, it’s the protocols, teachings, that she shares that go along with that. It’s not something that we get in some of the other [Anishinaabemowin] classes that I’ve been to. Laura brings a lot more to that learning, and that’s the protocols and all those other cultural teachings as it relates to language which makes it a lot more interesting.”

Decorte says the learners who attended regularly have developed friendships over the years.

“This is our language family,” Decorte says. “It’s sad that because of COVID-19 we lost a couple of years or more of getting together for language. This is the first time we’re back since COVID-19 hit, face-to-face. We were doing some [classes] online when COVID-19 hit.”

Decorte says Calmwind also introduced the learners to other cultural Knowledge Keepers over the years.

“Through Laura, we’ve had sweats that were just specific for our language class,” Decorte says. “We would go into a sweat lodge using the words that we’d learned here in our class. So it was really good to be able to practice the words we learned that relate to the sweat lodge. It’s something that we need and we need it to continue and I look forward to the next 10 weeks.”

Registration is not required to participate in the Anishinaabemowin Program.

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Rice will serve as a mentor for program featuring budding Indigenous writers

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