One of the best things we can do to help preserve Native American cultural heritage is to study and learn native languages. At the University of Minnesota, you can learn Ojibwe and Dakota.
|Program:||Dakota & Ojibwe Language Programs /
Bachelor’s in Ojibwe Language
|Program Type:||Language classes /
4-year undergraduate degree
|University:||The University of Minnesota|
|Department:||American Indian Studies|
The University of Minnesota is one of only two colleges to offer Dakota language courses in Minnesota. While the study of Ojibwe is somewhat more widespread, starting Fall 2016 the University of Minnesota will offer a Bachelor’s in Ojibwe Language! This will make it the only college in the world with this degree.
The University of Minnesota also offers teaching certificates for both Ojibwe and Dakota.
Ojibwe language classes are open to students in any discipline, and are even open to members of the community. If you’re not majoring in Ojibwe, these courses can count towards education requirements for any liberal arts degree or a degree specifically in American Indian Studies.
Why should I learn a Native American language?
Languages help us to gain a valuable worldview. Unfortunately, there are only 678 first-language Ojibwe and 5 first-language Dakota speakers left in the world. In other words, these languages are dying out.
By learning a Native American language, you contribute to the preservation of American cultural heritage. You help these languages– and their culture, stories and wisdom– to survive.
“Every new word I learn is a step closer to helping keep our language alive.”
— Summer Lara, sophomore student
What makes the Ojibwe and Dakota languages unique?
Dakota and Ojibwe are heritage languages of the indigenous peoples in Minnesota. They are also endangered– that’s why there’s a push to increase the number of speakers.
“I remember my grandma being able to yell at me in Objiwe and not being able to understand what she was saying.”
— Brittany Anderson, Community Outreach Coordinator
Ojibwe is a difficult language to learn because it uses a double vowel system. However, once you get the hang of it you’ll find it to be fairly easy. The Dakota language is unique because it uses a few different characters and has multiple written orthographies.
What kind of classes would I take?
To start with, you will take language courses that teach speaking, listening, reading, writing, and translation. Then, you’ll learn how to teach Native American languages through immersion.
Next, you’ll take several general culture and history courses through the American Indian Studies department. For example, you could take American Indian Literature, American Indians and the Cinema, Federal Indian Policy, or Archaeology and Native Americans.
What kind of careers can this degree lead to?
After your degree, you can go on to be a language teacher or apply for a language revitalization apprenticeship.
Many students also use their studies in Ojibwe and Dakota as a supplement to a more general liberal arts background that leads to a variety of career paths, including medicine and military service.
“I plan on using the language during the first couple years of work to encourage elders in the community to come to the dentist. Then I want to teach my friends and family the language as long as they want to learn it.”
–Jaylen Strong, sophomore student
What opportunities are there for immersion?
All of the language classes are taught in an immersion style. That means that they are taught in a classroom with little to no English. You can also take an Ojibwe immersions class. This course is taught over 3 weeks for 3 hours a day, Monday through Friday.
In addition, there are opportunities for students to teach others through immersion. The university works in conjunction with two local community schools to provide students with Ojibwe and Dakota student-teaching internship experiences.
“It’s been shown that language loss is a huge part of historical trauma, and showing out Native youth that it is possible to regain our language is incredibly important.”
— Summer Lara, sophomore student
Finally, the school hosts occasional immersion lunches. This is where students get together over lunch and only speak Ojibwe.
In the future, the school hopes to open a Living and Learning Community for upper classmen studying Ojibwe.
Are there scholarships?
Yes! There are scholarship programs available specifically for Ojibwe and Dakota language students.
These scholarships cover the full cost of tuition and necessary fees. Given out by the department, they look to help applicants who want to learn a language and give back to the community– in whatever way is most meaningful to them.