Odawa language course part of Harbor Springs High’s curriculum

By Christina Rohn
Harbor Springs, Michigan (AP) 2-08

A groundbreaking new course is being offered at Harbor Springs High School – Anishinaabemowin, the native language of Odawa Indians.

The class, a collaboration between the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and Harbor Springs Public Schools, began last September.

No other public school system in the state is offering a Native American language course for credit toward graduation, the Michigan Department of Education says.

Twelve students signed up for the course and 11 remain, including Harbor Springs junior Taylor Fisher, who is one-fourth Native American.

“I’d have to say this is one of my more interesting classes,” he said. “I’d 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 it’s 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 history.

“I wanted to partly because I really wanted to get into, and know, the culture. There’s so many people that ask me questions about it and I can’t answer them because I don’t know myself, so I’m 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 knew.”

Carla McFall, LTBB language program coordinator, said this class is a step toward the tribe revitalizing the language.

“This really got some young people involved and interested,” McFall said. “The elders are really proud that they’re (the youth) taking the time to learn and revitalize the language our goal is revitalization.”

Tecumseh Adams, a Harbor Springs junior who is one-half Odawa, said he feels this course is practical for him.

“It 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.

Susan Jacobs, principal at Harbor Springs High School, said she had recognized the need for such a course for several years.

“Native American students do not feel part of our system because very little about the system honors who they are,” she wrote in a 2006 letter to the Harbor Springs Public Schools Board of Education.

She contacted Ray Kiogima, a tribal member and elder, about offering an Odawa language course at the high school. Kiogima had co-authored a book entitled, “Odawa Language and Legends,” which translates more than 1,000 common words and phrases from Odawa to English.

Kiogima set up a meeting between Jacobs and tribal members.

“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 anybody else.”’

Jacobs said 11 percent of her student population is Native American, and she says she measures the school’s success by them.

“If they don’t feel that this system is heading them toward an independent life, then we’ve failed,” she said.

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.

Helped by an anonymous $15,000 donation, Harbor Springs High School has provided the classroom and materials, which had to be crafted originally because there were no textbooks.

“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.

Peltier, the course instructor, said she has used her creativity.

“I’m making it up as I go,” she said. But the students are catching on.

“I’m so proud of these young people; they pick it up so fast,” she said. “It’s craziness in here for that hour, but I just love it. I do hope (the language course) continues; I’ve heard talk of expansion next year.”

Jacobs said she would like to see the program continue for years to come.

“We definitely didn’t go through all this to have it fail,” she said. “We just feel the support of the tribe is really what made it work it’s such a point of pride for this community and the tribe.”

Halfacer said the course has been eye-opening for students.

“It’s given all the students the awareness of the area they live in and how rich it is in Native American culture,” she said.

The year-long course provides students with one-and-a-half credits toward graduation.

It meets Monday through Friday and is open to community members. Elders from the Little Traverse Bay Bands make frequent appearances to speak the language and answer questions.