Odawa language course joins Harbor Springs curriculum
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
Id have to say this is one of my more interesting classes, he said. Id
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 its 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. Theres so many people that ask me questions about it
(Native American history) and I cant answer them because I dont know
myself, so Im 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 theyre (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 its 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 its
greatly needed for the LTBB tribe and the students coming up who are native
and non native. Its good to learn about the people around you it
(Anishinaabemowin) used to be here and now its 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
schools 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
Jacobs said 11 percent of her student population is Native American, and
she says she measures the schools 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 dont feel that
this system is heading them toward an independent life, then weve 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.
Its really awesome to develop a curriculum, but its completely out of
your league when theres no textbooks, Jacobs said.
Peltier, course instructor, said she has had to be really creative in order
teach the class.
Im making it up as I go, she said.
Despite the lack of classroom supplies, Peltier said the students are
Im so proud of these young people; they pick it up so fast, she said.
Its craziness in here for that hour, but I just love it. I do hope (the
language course) continues Ive heard talk of expansion next year.
Jacobs said she would like to see the program continue for years to come.
I think its going fabulous. Ive had all positive feedback from the
students every time I go in there (the classroom), theyre just happy,
she said. We really hope to keep this. We definitely didnt go through all
this to have it fail. We just feel the support of the tribe is really what
made it work its such a point of pride for this community and the
Halfacer said the course has been eye-opening for students.
Its 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 were 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@...