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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

POWER: Ojibwe woman tells of need for cultural identity

Extra credit is my new best friend. Not only because it’s the last chance to save my suffering grades as the semester wraps up, but because, last week, it led me to realize how crucial a role heritage and culture play in our lives. They create our identity by influencing our lifestyle and beliefs.

Last week, I attended a lecture about Native American boarding school for extra credit in my anthropology class.  Kelly Jackson, an Ojibwe woman from Lac du Flambeau, a small town in northern Wisconsin, spoke at the lecture.

Jackson grew up speaking English, and her first words were probably something like “momma” or “dadda.”

However, this was not the same case for her grandmother, an Ojibwe speaker whose first words may have been “imbaabaa” – father – or “nimaamaa” – mother.

Jackson was born into the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. Two generations ago, Ojibwe was their first language. But in the early 1990s, the government forced the local Native American children to leave their families and live at the boarding school in Lac du Flambeau. Their native language and heritage began to fade, and now, English is the dominant language.

In fact, their Chippewa culture was nearly eliminated. In the boarding school, children were forbidden from speaking their native tongue and saw very little of their families — even during summer vacation. They were called by English names, wore boots instead of moccasins and had to give up their native religion to practice Christianity.

Children became ashamed of their culture. They were afraid of who they were.

Jackson’s grandmother still knows the Ojibwe language, but chooses not to speak it. The boarding school taught her to give up Ojibwe and conform to the European-American culture in order to survive in the modern world.

Jackson’s grandmother would tell her, “Be ashamed to speak the language because it will hinder your ability to be successful.”

But, since the Ojibwe stopped speaking their language – in turn, losing their culture — violence, alcoholism and suicide have become major problems in their community.

As a witness to her people’s struggle, Jackson knew her grandmother was wrong not to pass on her language. Jackson decided to take action and revive her Ojibwe culture in her life and in the Lac du Flambeau community.

She enrolled in Ojibwe language classes with her son, became her town’s Historic Preservation Officer and is currently restoring a boarding school. It will be a symbol of cultural survival despite the government’s efforts to rid them of their Ojibwe identity.

She stood before us as a modern woman wearing shoes instead of moccasins, but her culture was alive within her.

Opening with an Ojibwe phrase, beautifully pronounced words flowed out of Jackson’s mouth and white disc earrings swung in and out of her natural long black hair. She spoke passionately about her people’s story with a strong voice and meaning in her dark brown eyes.

Like the Ojibwe people of Lac du Flambeau, everyone needs a cultural identity. It influences beliefs, morals, appearance and pride.

The kin of immigrants and Native Americans alike have lost their unique cultures in lieu of progress and money. Old family recipes fade away because people don’t have time to cook.

People choose mainstream clothing styles over those of their culture in order to be socially acceptable. Industry paves over villages, and cultural centers segregate themselves to small parts of cities.

Are you half-Irish and half-Italian? Then bring your heritage’s music, language and lifestyle into your own life.

Spice up Friday night dinners with meatballs and Dean Martin. Dance around to the Celtic fiddle. Attend the Irish or Italian pride festivals and parades.

Embrace and be proud of your culture. Like Jackson found it possible to embrace her culture in her modern life, let your ancestry flourish in yours.

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