Waadookodaading, Inc.: Teaching Ojibwe Students to Speak, Read and Write Ojibwemowin


Waadookodaading, Inc.: Teaching Ojibwe Students to Speak, Read and Write Ojibwemowin

By Sarah Hernandez, Ph.D., First Nations Communications Officer

Waadookodaading, Inc., “the place where we all help each other,” was founded by a group of Ojibwe elders, language activists and community members who sought to revitalize Ojibwemowin at Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO). LCO is one of six federally recognized bands of Ojibwe people located in present-day Wisconsin.

In 2000, tribal leaders launched a pilot program led by tribal elders and teachers that helped six kindergartners learn to speak Ojibwemowin. By 2010, this half-day program expanded to a full-time language immersion school, increasing from two language instructors to 12 (six veteran instructors and six trainees).  Today, 65 K-7 students take language arts, math, science and other core classes in Ojibwemowin.
Over the past 18 years, Waadookodaading administrators, faculty and staff have been fine-tuning their standards, assessments, teaching strategies and lesson plans.  Their next goal is to develop Ojibwe texts for beginning Ojibwe readers.  To achieve this goal, Waadookodaading, Inc. established the Agindamaadidaa! “Let’s Read!” project to increase the next generation of fluent Ojibwemowin speakers and listeners who can accurately interpret written texts and express themselves in writing.

In 2018, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) awarded Waadookodaading, Inc. $90,000 through the Native Language Immersion Initiative (NLII) to write, edit and publish 60 major texts in Ojibwemowin. Although the NLII grant cycle just recently began, Waadookodaading, Inc. has already completed its series of kindergarten books. According to Executive Director Brooke Ammann, writing and editing primer books for level one readers does not take as much time as other reading materials. The real challenge is to translate and create math, science and social studies books for more experienced readers. 
Waadookodaading, Inc. is taking a unique approach when it comes to translating and transcribing the print materials.  “In the past, like many language immersion programs, we relied upon translations of English literacy resources,” says Ammann. “However, we quickly realized that these translations didn’t always reflect an Ojibwe worldview – some of the words and concepts were not culturally or linguistically appropriate – so we decided to write and publish our own books.  As we develop books for our students, we always ask ourselves two questions:  1) how do we teach students to read, and 2) how do we teach them cultural values and worldviews?”

To develop these materials, Waadookodaading, Inc. is working with a team made up of an Ojibwe linguist, immersion teachers, language instructors and first language speakers to ensure that their books are linguistically accurate, academically rigorous and culturally appropriate. Over the next year, Waadookodaading, Inc. will translate academic books (i.e., math, science and social studies textbooks) from English to Ojibwemowin and also publish a new series of books from scratch based on the Ojibwe oral storytelling tradition.

Without a doubt, language translation is a complex and time-consuming process, but it is also a worthwhile and rewarding one that will benefit Ojibwe students, families and communities for generations. “This is more than language revitalization,” says Ammann.  “It’s community revitalization. It’s a wellness journey that promotes education and empowerment.”

Waadookodaading Inc. will pilot its new reading program in elementary and sixth and seventh grades, but eventually plans to expand the program through eighth grade, high school and post-secondary school. Additionally, non-students and older adults have expressed an interest in learning Ojibwemowin. Waadookodaading, Inc. hopes to expand opportunities for language learning in other community spaces to meet this need.
Once it has finished publishing the books, Waadookodaading Inc. also intends to reach out to nearby tribal communities that are losing or without Ojibwe speakers. It would like to help these communities adapt and modify Waadookodaading’s curriculum to fit their own unique cultures and languages.

To learn more about Waadookodaading Inc., please visit http://www.waadookodaading.org/.


About the Author

Sarah Hernandez, Ph.D. (Sicangu Lakota) returned to First Nations in 2018 as Communication Officer. She is responsible for helping write and edit First Nations' print and web materials as well as handling other duties.  

Sarah is also an adjunct instructor at the University of Colorado, where she teaches course on American Indian literature and film. She is the Executive Dirctor of the Oak Lake Writers Society, a tribal writing group for Dakota, Lakota and Nakota writers, and is currently revising her dissertation on the Dakota literary tradition into a book manuscript.