One of the best aspects of my job as a reporter is not only that I get to meet new people on a regular basis, but it is also hearing from people who want to comment on something they read. I always end up learning something new.
This morning I received a comment from Awaabonong Benasi of Aitkin, Minn. (He preferred I use his American Indian name in my blog instead of his English name). He commented on the article I wrote titled, “New resources offer Ojibwe, English translations.”
Benasi wrote (using his spelling):
“In reading this article, I had to address this subject with you. The Anishinaabe language is not indigenous to this region. The Lakota inhabited this territory long before the Aniishinaabeg invaded this territory. Most of the language written are words that have been created and most are not words used in the fluent language. Many of the words are words for things that did not exist in the past days. The Aniishinabemowin was not a written language. The language also has more dialects and is considered the most intricate language in the world.“
I was curious to know more about what Benasi wrote. I claim to be no expert in this field of study, so I contacted Shared Vision member Michael Meuers, who I quoted in my article. Meuers said Benasi’s comment about the language was truthful, as far as the history of the Lakota and the intricacy of the language. To further clarify what he wanted to say about the comment, Meuers contacted Bemidji State University professor Anton Treuer, who I also quoted in my article.
Treuer wrote me an e-mail in response to my curiosity to know more about the language and culture of the Ojibwe. Here is what Anton Treuer stated in his e-mail:
“1. The Ojibwe did not even exist several thousand years ago, but emerged as a distinct group of people as they moved from teh Atlantic coast to the central Great Lakes over a period of hundreds of years. My book, ‘Ojibwe in Minnesota’ covers this well.
“2. Bemidji was inhabited by the Dakota and Nakota before the Ojibwe and most of the larger burial mounds in the region are Dakota. Bemidji was inhabited by the Cheyenne and Hidatsa before the Dakota. The Lakota are a group closely related to the Dakota but primarily resident to the plains.
“3. Ojibwe is an intricate language and there are many dialects of Ojibwe. The audio and written information that is part of Shared Visions and the BSU website represent some of the dialects from Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth. The differences between those dialects are very minor, but we have never claimed that these words are the only words or the only variations of those words acceptable. Webster’s dictionary gives the word “water fountain” for a water fountain. In Milwaukee and Wisconsin, they call it a “bubbler,” but nobody is saying that they aren’t speaking American English there.
“4. All languages change over time. They have to. Geoffery Chaucer is barely intelligible to an English speaker today and he was the first guy to write in English (600 years ago). English has changed a lot. There was no English words for “computer” or “flush toilet” 100 years ago either but they have the words now and English is still English. Ojibwe has the right to adapt and grow with the times, too. It will die if it doesn’t. But the words on the poster and in Shared Visions are used in the language by speakers today.
“5. Anishinaabemowin was not written until 400 years ago. It didn’t have a formal writing system until 150 years ago. But it is written now. Writing is not the enemy and is not designed to replace fluency. Like English, literacy is a tool to enhance fluency, communication and preservation of our beautiful way of speaking and unique world view.“
The reason I enjoy my job so much is because I am constantly learning. This is a perfect example. I want to say “miigwech” to Michael Meuers, Anton Treuer and to Awaabonong Benasi of Aitkin for giving me the additional information to help clarify today’s article on the Ojibwe and English translations.
Baanimaa (farewell until later)