University of Minnesota Duluth block M and wordmark

Looking to the Future

Read More Homepage Stories

Associate Professor Jill Doerfler and Colleagues
Support UMD's Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest

UMD Associate Professor Jill Doerfler  
UMD Associate Professor Jill Doerfler  

Upon completing their book, Centering Anishinaabeg Studies: Understanding the World through Stories, Jill Doerfler, associate professor in UMD’s Department of American Indian Studies and her colleagues had a rather novel idea. “We decided we didn’t want to make money from the book," Doerfler said. "It was a communal effort to create the book, and we thought a good way to continue to enact that principle was for the profits to go back into the community." Instead, co-editors Doerfler, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, assistant professor in the Department of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba and Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark, assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Victoria, chose to donate all of the royalties from their book to UMD’s Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest.

There’s a natural connection between the subject of their book and the mission of the Language Nest. The book focuses on story telling and stories as “vessels of knowledge.” These stories are bagijiganan, offerings, as it states in the book’s introduction, “of the possibilities within Anishinaabeg life.” The Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest teaches children through the Ojibwe language, helping them gain an understanding of and an appreciation for the Ojibwe culture.

Doerfler and her colleagues believe that “Anishinaabeg Studies should be taught as a field – that there should be Anishinaabeg Studies, Cherokee Studies, etc., like German Studies and French Studies. One of the most important things in these fields of study is language. Language is so very important culturally, and there is such a need for it to be continued to be taught,” Doerfler said.

Doerfler believes that supporting the Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest is a natural expression of Anishinaabeg values. “Anishinaabeg language is focused on action and doing, and that can translate into how we live our lives. It’s about creating, and that’s a good principle for living. The language takes us out of passive modality. Things have been done to us, but our language tells us that we are always in action, and that we create who we are. We all have things done to us, but it’s how we react that matters,” Doerfler said.

Doerfler, Sinclair, and Stark didn’t make any constraints on how the money could be used. “They know what is best. We thought they should decide what they need,” Doerfler said. Currently a little over $1000 has been donated. Window blinds were recently purchased with some of the money to make the classroom more comfortable during rest periods.

UMD Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest Gordon Jourdain teacher with students  
Gordon Jourdain, director and lead teacher at the Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest, guides children in a group activity.  
UMD Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest young student  
William, a student at the Language Nest, works on his craft project.  

UMD’s Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest
The Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest, located in the Chester Park Building on the UMD campus, is a comprehensive program, licensed by the State Department of Human Services. It provides children, ages 33 months to five years of age, with learning in all areas, including core literacy, science, math, structured play, music and art - all of which is taught through the Ojibwe language. Some of the children in the program are of American Indian ancestry and most are not. They can attend full-time or just mornings or afternoons.

Gordon Jourdain is the director and lead teacher and has taught at the Language Nest since it opened in fall 2009. He is an Ojibwe master speaker who didn’t learn English until he went to school. In addition to an assistant teacher, UMD students, some majoring in Art Education, Elementary Education, or American Indian Studies, under Jourdain’s supervision, also work with the children. The UMD students are asked to learn the Ojibwe language along with the children.

Enweyang means "our voice" and the children do have a voice in their program. While they have a routine, the children are free to gravitate towards what interests them. “We put things out. The children drive what they do for the day,” Jourdain said. “That’s a very Ojibwe way, their deciding, choosing, and doing,” Doerfler explained. In addition, parents come in every two weeks for language lessons as part of the Enweyang Family Education Program. “We want to expose them to the language as well,” Jourdain noted.

The classroom is divided into areas for learning, play, and projects. Everything that a child would learn in a traditional preschool program is taught at the Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest. Examples of what the children learn include colors, shapes, letters, numbers, seasons, animals, time, everything, through the Ojibwe language.

Field trips to the Tweed Museum of Art, Bagley Nature Center, and Martin Library are not unusual. The children get outside as much as possible. When the weather is bad, they play inside, including indoor hockey. “I’m Canadian. We’ve got to play hockey,” Jourdain laughs.

He is very proud of the program. “It’s been extremely successful. The children are learning how to learn. It really starts to show when they go into kindergarten. Knowledge is transferable,” he said. The siblings of children who have graduated from the program are now attending, a sure sign that the program has the full support of parents.

Looking Ahead
Jourdain is always open to collaborations and partnerships. One recent collaboration was with UMD technology students. “The students designed computer programs in Ojibwe,” Jourdain said. The Language Nest creates its own curriculum so products can’t generally come off the shelf and into the classroom. Collaborations like this allow for targeted creations that fit children’s needs.

Jourdain has a few items on his wish list. A volunteer grant writer could help the Language Nest access more funding. A volunteer videographer could help them make a video about the program to share with prospective parents.

The success of the Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest has been recognized. Officials from school districts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and other U.S. states have toured, as they consider programs of their own and “a lot of people have come from Canada to view the program,” Jourdain said.

This fall, an Ojibwe kindergarten immersion program is opening at Lowell School in Duluth. Both Doerfler and Jourdain are happy to see the teaching of Ojibwe language expand locally. “More American Indian people live in urban settings. Educating children in an urban context is exciting,” Doerfler said.

“American Indian Studies is for everyone. It helps them become aware of diversity at an early age. That leads to respect,” Jourdain said.

For more information, visit the Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest.

UMD Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest vowel chart
At the Language Nest, children learn through the Ojibwe language.


Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann May 2014


Homepage Stories | News Releases
Contact Cheryl Reitan

Did you find what you were looking for? YES NO

Choose appearance:
[ Desktop | Mobile friendly ]