Rita Guimond – Anishinaabemowin Speaker from Sagkeeng First Nation (elder)
Rita Guimond is a 76-year-old Ojibway speaker from Sagkeeng First Nation, a community that is just 2 hours north of Winnipeg situated on the Winnipeg River. Rita has worked within her community as the Indian status registrar for band members for over 30 years and has contributed to numerous Ojibway language speaking projects within the school division.
Rita is a fluent speaker and shares her history and upbringing as Ojibway being her first language in her home as a child, as well as some English and French. Rita is an elder and knowledge keeper within the community and shared many teachings about dialect and pronunciation during my time developing this Ojibway interactive language bingo. One of those teachings was to start small and with simple words such as the body parts, and proper use of adverbs, verbs and phrases. The Anishinaabemowin language is structured in such a way that you first must understand how each of the short and long vowels determines the next use of a word.
Her inputs and knowledge were helpful for me in determining exactly where to start with an interactive game such as bingo and how use of memory and recalling of long and short vowels can ignite a simple beginner's understanding of Ojibway. Rita has used her knowledge and skills to translate for the School Division’s Ojibway curriculum within the junior high school in Sagkeeng; with her experience I felt it was best to have her work together with me on this language project. My personal knowledge and understanding increased sitting down with Rita in her home and hearing her spoken word and explanation of phrases. This project has opened my eyes to the impacts of residential schools and the banishment of the use of the language and how important it is that programs like this exist.
As anishinaabemowin we use language to understand the spirit and how it is connected to everything in existence, this understanding is how the language connects to ceremony and our very way of life. Anishinaabemowin is considered an endangered language with assimilation during the residential school systems there was a decline in use of language. Simply because we were taught that our language was not allowed to be spoken, some cases inferior to english. By taking the children away from their anishinaabemowin speaking homes, communities and families the learning and teachings in the language declined as well. This was a stripping of the identity of a proud sovereign nation of peoples, not just anishinaabemowin. It is now very important to elders that we create language immersion programs to nurture the rekindling of the flame that was once snuffed out.
Rita has explained to me the need for access to immersion programs that not only teach but provide an interactive environment that communicates the importance of the action behind the word, because Anishinaabemowin is not as simple as other languages. There is not an easy way to translate in English the meaning and depth behind every word. Each word and phrase or sentence itself tells a deeper meaning about Ojibway way of life, a story or feeling involved with an action. This was something we considered in the choice of words and how to deliver the bingo in a way that a beginner could begin to understand the simplest forms of communication in everyday life.
Language is important in ceremony and storytelling. We can teach lessons through ceremony and stories, this is important for the young people to understand their history and where they come from. This is something that also helps youth to connect with their purpose and gifts which in turn will guide them to mino bimaadiziwin. Guidance from elders and fluent speakers is the best practice to be able to learn and understand the connection between language and spirit. Some forms of communication inside classrooms is a good starting point, but immersion programs such as being on the land and within a lodge hearing the conversations spoken will give you an idea of how inflection and translation may differ from written textbooks. There are many dialects that have evolved with the times and settlements across turtle island, it is our great responsibility to ensure the continuation of those languages through our generations and those yet to come. So that identity must not be lost.
This project is something we were both proud to be a part of and thought it was a fun way to deliver the language as everyone loves to play bingo and win a prize! I have also wanted another aspect of the bingo to feature Indigenous artists, business owners and their stories of success to be shared through their donation prize to the bingo. This is important to share and communicate as well, as the entire meaning of an indigenous program is to inspire others to achieve Mino Bimaadiziwin. This means to be walking in truth and living the way of our people. (The Good Life)
Lori Abraham Indigenous Cultural Safety Leader (STMMCM) 1JustCity