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Odawa language course joins Harbor Springs’ curriculum

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://www.petoskeynews.com/articles/2008/01/15/news/doc478ce2d409651389481 741.txt Odawa language course makes its way into Harbor Springs’ curriculum By
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 16, 2008

      Odawa language course makes its way into Harbor Springs’ curriculum

      By Christina Rohn News-Review Staff Writer
      Tuesday, January 15, 2008 11:59 AM EST

      A groundbreaking new course is being offered at Harbor Springs High School
      — Anishinaabemowin, the native language of Odawa Indians.

      The class, which is a collaboration between the Little Traverse Bay Bands
      (LTBB) of Odawa Indians and Harbor Springs Public Schools, began in
      September 2007 — the beginning of the current school year.

      According to officials from the Michigan Department of Education, no other
      public school system in the state is currently offering a “Native American”
      language course for credit toward graduation.

      Initially, 12 students signed up for the language course, but now, only 11
      remain, including Harbor Springs junior, Taylor Fisher, who is one-fourth
      Native American.

      “I’d have to say this is one of my more interesting classes,” he said. “I’d
      probably take it again just to get some more of my heritage in there. My
      native history is a big part of what I do, and it’s nice to take a class at
      a school that cares about a certain history.”

      Crooked Tree junior, Cheyenne Worthington, who is one-fourth Odawa and
      one-eighth Chippewa, said she is taking the course to learn more about her

      “I wanted to (take the course) partly because I really wanted to get into,
      and know the culture. There’s so many people that ask me questions about it
      (Native American history) and I can’t answer them because I don’t know
      myself, so I’m trying to learn it,” she said. “Plus, my dad used to speak
      it (Anishinaabemowin) up until fifth- or sixth-grade, before he had to
      learn English, and just me speaking what I learn here brings back what he

      Carla McFall, LTBB language program coordinator, said this class is a step
      toward the tribe revitalizing the language.

      “This (class) really got some young people involved and interested (in the
      language),” McFall said. “The elders are really proud that they’re (the
      youth) taking the time to learn and revitalize the language — our goal is

      Tecumseh Adams, Harbor Springs junior, who is one-half Odawa, said he feels
      this course is practical for him.

      “I just like the fact that it’s sort of closer to home. It (the class) sort
      of gives me a sense of belonging, like I know where my roots are in a way —
      it brings a good variation of history and language,” he said. “I think it’s
      greatly needed for the LTBB tribe and the students coming up who are native
      and non native. It’s good to learn about the people around you — it
      (Anishinaabemowin) used to be here and now it’s coming back.”

      For several years, Susan Jacobs, principal at Harbor Springs High School,
      said she recognized the need for a course of this nature.

      In a letter to the Harbor Springs Public Schools’ Board of Education in
      December of 2006, she wrote that, “Native American students do not feel
      part of our system because very little about the system honors who they

      She informed the board that, according to her observations, the Native
      American students were more likely to be represented in the at-risk
      population of their high school; the students’ dropout rate and absenteeism
      were higher than the general population; they seemed less involved in the
      school’s co-curricular events; and they were less invested and less
      trusting of the school system than other students.

      In early 2006, Jacobs contacted LTBB tribal member and elder, Ray Kiogima,
      to discuss the possibility of offering an Odawa language course at the high
      school. Kiogima had co-authored a book in March 2006, titled “Odawa
      Language and Legends,” which translates more than 1,000 common words and
      phrases from Odawa to English.

      Soon after their initial conversation, Kiogima set up a meeting between
      Jacobs and members of the tribe to discuss the matter. Jacobs said tribal
      members seemed supportive of the idea.

      “The tribe thought it was wonderful — everybody thought it was great,” she
      said. “We wanted to give the Native American students exactly what we give
      to the white children. We wanted to do something within the curriculum that
      implicitly said, without saying a word, that ‘You are just as valued as
      anybody else.’”

      Jacobs said 11 percent of her student population is Native American, and
      she says she measures the school’s success by them.

      “It (Native Americans) is the ethnic group that has the highest percentage
      of membership in any of our buildings. I look at the Native American
      students as a standard to live up to,” she said. “If they don’t feel that
      this system is heading them toward an independent life, then we’ve failed.”

      Jacobs said by the summer of 2006, the tribe had agreed to hire a
      curriculum designer, Ann Stander, and an instructor, Doreen Peltier, who is
      fluent in the language and comes from Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Canada,
      with funds from their 3-year Administration for Native Americans (ANA)

      With the help of an anonymous $15,000 donation, Harbor Springs High School
      has been able to provide the classroom and materials for the program.

      Jacobs said, because there is no other language course like this being
      taught, the materials have to be made from scratch.

      “There are no textbooks to teach it (Anishinaabemowin),” Jacobs said.

      “It was not a very recorded language — it was all oral — mostly done
      through storytellers,” said Cheryl Halfacer, director of Indian Education
      at Harbor Springs Public Schools.

      “It’s really awesome to develop a curriculum, but it’s completely out of
      your league when there’s no textbooks,” Jacobs said.

      Peltier, course instructor, said she has had to be really creative in order
      teach the class.

      “I’m making it up as I go,” she said.

      Despite the lack of classroom supplies, Peltier said the students are
      catching on.

      “I’m so proud of these young people; they pick it up so fast,” she said.
      “It’s craziness in here for that hour, but I just love it. I do hope (the
      language course) continues — I’ve heard talk of expansion next year.”

      Jacobs said she would like to see the program continue for years to come.

      “I think it’s going fabulous. I’ve had all positive feedback from the
      students — every time I go in there (the classroom), they’re just happy,”
      she said. “We really hope to keep this. We definitely didn’t go through all
      this to have it fail. We just feel the support of the tribe is really what
      made it work — it’s such a point of pride for this community and the

      Halfacer said the course has been eye-opening for students.

      “It’s given all the students the awareness of the area they live in and how
      rich it is in Native American culture,” she said. “I know the native
      community is pleased that we’re making things come together.”

      The Anishinaabemowin class is considered a second language. The year-long
      course provides students with one-and-a-half credits toward graduation.

      The class meets from 1:38-2:55 p.m. every Monday through Friday and is open
      to community members. Elders from the LTBB make frequent appearances to
      speak the language and answer any questions students may have.

      For more information about the language course, contact Susan Jacobs,
      principal of Harbor Springs High School, at 526-4855, or e-mail her at

      Christina Rohn 439-9398 - crohn@...
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