Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Bemidji businesses including Ojibwe in signs

Expand Messages
  • Rob Schmidt
    http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/08/05/ojibwe-signs/ Bemidji businesses including Ojibwe in signs by Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 14, 2009

      Bemidji businesses including Ojibwe in signs

      by Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
      August 5, 2009

      Bemidji, Minn. - A growing number of businesses in Bemidji are putting up
      signs in the language of the local Native American community. Words in
      Ojibwe are popping up as welcome signs, on restroom doors and in grocery

      A group promoting racial diversity is behind the effort. They're hoping the
      Ojibwe language signs will make Native Americans feel more comfortable in a
      town some say hasn't always been welcoming.

      When you walk into The Cabin Coffeehouse and Cafe in downtown Bemidji,
      you'll not only see a welcome sign in English -- you'll also see the words
      "aaniin" and "boozhoo." Those are words of welcome in Ojibwe.

      You can even order a cup of coffee or a bowl of soup in Ojibwe. Coffeehouse
      owner Noemi Aylesworth has also printed a list of Ojibwe words. They're now
      sitting on all of the tables.

      "So we have 'miigwech,' is thank you, and then we have a formal greeting,
      which is 'aaniin,'" she said.

      Aylesworth's coffeehouse was the first to accept the Ojibwe sign challenge
      from a local group called Shared Vision, which is working to improve the
      race dynamic in Bemidji. It's a community surrounded by three Indian

      Aylesworth said her non-Indian customers are intrigued by the words, and her
      Native American customers seem to appreciate the gesture.

      "They'll greet me at the till and say boozhoo, which is nice to hear,"
      Aylesworth said. "And it's all been just a very positive experience. It's
      the little things; the symbols that mean a lot to people. So it's just a
      nice baby step in healing the racial things going on in the community."

      An undertone of racial tension has been part of Bemidji life for decades.
      Last spring, the Shared Vision group released a study that shows
      three-fourths of Indians living in Bemidji -- and nearly 90 percent living
      on nearby reservations -- feel the community isn't welcoming to people of
      all races.

      Shared Vision member Michael Meuers came up with the idea of asking
      businesses to post signs in Ojibwe. Meuers' goal was to get 20 businesses
      signed on to the idea in the first year. But in just six weeks, nearly 60
      businesses are on board.

      That includes big organizations like Bemidji State University, the City of
      Bemidji and the local hospital. It also includes smaller organizations like
      Harmony Foods, a downtown health food cooperative that will soon produce
      Ojibwe labels for the fruits and vegetables in its produce section.

      Meuers works with local Ojibwe language experts to help businesses with
      proper usage and spelling of Ojibwe words. He said a local funeral home has
      asked for an Ojibwe translation for a blessing for grieving families. Other
      businesses have asked for translation help for words like "pharmacist" and
      "we fix computers."

      The Shared Vision group is working on strategies for tackling a wide range
      of complex race issues. But Meuers said the Ojibwe signs are a simple
      gesture, and the first tangible sign of progress.

      "It's profound in its simplicity, and it's inexpensive to do," Meuers said.
      "The thought occurred to me that Indian people would look at this as a
      welcoming and a sign of respect. The non-Indians in the community would
      learn a little bit about the indigenous peoples that have been here for
      thousands of years, and the tourists would love it, so there's an economic
      side of it, too."

      Ironically, there are few people around that will understand all of the new
      Ojibwe words on display. The language is in crisis. In Minnesota, there are
      only a few hundred people who speak Ojibwe fluently.

      Still, many local Indians say seeing the words makes them feel good,
      including Shilo White, a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

      "It will influence a lot of Native American people that'll come into the
      local businesses again," White said. "I just think it's a real good idea. It
      makes me feel a little more welcome."

      The signs may mean even more to older Ojibwe who experienced blatant racism
      years ago. Jolene Ajooshian is a White Earth Band member who grew up in
      Detroit Lakes in the 1950s. Ajooshian said back then, some businesses didn't
      even let Indians in the door.

      "I remember as a small child going into businesses and they'd chase us out,"
      Ajooshian said. "It's taken over 50 years, so it's a good thing to see
      Ojibwe signs instead of 'no Indians allowed.'"

      Promoters of the initiative say their hope is that Bemidji will become well
      known for its dual-language signs. They want "boozhoo" to be synonymous with
      Bemidji the same way "aloha" is with Hawaii.
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.