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Native Language Lecture

By Karl Erikson  

Dr. Margaret Noodin presented in a lecture last week concerning the importance of native languages.

The American Studies Department asked Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, Dr. Margaret Noodin, to come to Kalamazoo College for their annual lecture series. Each year the American Studies department hosts a speaker to give a lecture and take part in various American studies classes. Over the course of its 11-year history, the department has hosted speakers from a variety of different field including historians, anthropologists, political scientists and professors of English.

Dr. Noodin is the editor of Ojibwe.net, an online source for Anishinaabemowin language revitalization. Anishinaabemowin is a Native American language spoken by the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Ottawa nations. During the course of her lecture, Dr. Noodin discussed the history of the Anishinaabemowin language and the revitalization project of those who still speak it.

“The main thing that indigenous languages hold is the place and how to be in that place,” Noodin said. “We have our language, we have our identity through that.”

Throughout the lecture, Dr. Noodin showed attendees some of the native people’s poems, songs and dances. One such poem, titled “Giziis Binoojiiyag,” spoke of the Ojibwe’s relationship to the sun.

“Giizhaagsiged giizis (it is warm, the sun) Biinaagamijige (it cleans the water) Wii de bigizowaad (so they can swim) Binoojiiwag (children),” Noodin chanted.

Such songs showed the thinking of the Ojibwe, and how drastically different it is from the stereotypical American way of life.

“It [the sun] communicates something very important to us. Even the moon we call the night sun,” Noodin said. “Those images are what I tried to put in here.”

Dr. Katanski, who knows Dr. Noodin from previous scholarly work and who was the professor who selected Dr. Noodin to come to K for this lecture, was most intrigued by the songs and poems that Dr. Noodin spoke of during the lecture.

“I have heard her speak about the language before and also heard other people who are language teachers talk about it and I feel like you can learn so much just by knowing one work,” Dr. Katanski said. “I thought she was only going to share one or two pieces of work and I’m really excited that we got to see and hear so many.”

Jessie Hansen ‘17 was one of those in attendance at the lecture, and found many other parts of the lecture equally entertaining.

“I thought it was really good and inspiring and it taught me a lot of the culture,” Hansen said. “I learned more about the revival process of languages and how they are trying to bring it back and that these cultures aren’t dead like most people think they are.”

Dr. Noodin not only discussed the Anishinaabemowin language, but also deep-rooted anthropological issues for Native peoples, like the Bering Straight Theory, while still relating it to her topic.

“Bering straight theory is now under question,” Noodin said. “So for us, that meant our stories were validated by science.”