his mother took senior Paul Ganas to his very first powwow as a
toddler, she said he immediately got involved, dancing and swaying
to the beat of the drums.
that he's older, Ganas, 25, is involved with American Indian culture
in a more intimate way - learning to speak Ojibwe and teaching it
to others, in turn breathing new life into an endangered language.
needs to step up and take care of it," Ganas said. "(Otherwise)
a whole culture, a way of life, is going to disappear. I think that's
something worth saving."
along with three other UW-Eau Claire students and American Indian
Studies Program Director Wendy Makoons Geniusz, spent the summer
developing curriculum for a new American Indian Studies course.
course would instruct students to teach Ojibwe, especially to young
Ojibwe Indians who haven't had much exposure to their language because
of pressure to assimilate, Geniusz said.
July, the students spent four days at a language camp at the Red
Cliff Reservation near the Apostle Islands. Then they used their
experience to run their own three-day language camp in Iron River
in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, before returning to Eau Claire to
build a course syllabus.
camped on the Red Cliff Reservation with sophomores Hickory Tate
and Andy Tabbut and alumna Lyndsay Nelson. There, they spent time
with tribal elders, trying out their Ojibwe language skills and
absorbing the culture, Ganas said.
the experience was at times overwhelming, all four said it was indescribably
not a tribal member and there's a sign outside the campsite that
says 'you must be a tribal member to camp here,' so that was intimidating
at first," Ganas said. "I didn't know anybody except for
the students who came with me, but they were very welcoming."
language and culture are so intertwined, Ganas and Tate said their
time on the reservation was helpful in understanding the importance
of preserving the language.
think it's important to keep that alive and possibly bring some
of its elements into the university so everyone gets to learn about
it," Tate said.
Ganas introduced her son Paul Ganas to American Indian culture at
an early age, reading him traditional stories at bedtime, taking
him to powwows, and buying him fry bread at the Indian Summer Festival
always been drawn to the culture because they're so connected to
the earth," Cathy Ganas said. "It makes a lot of sense
said it was natural for her to share that with her children and
that American Indian culture has "always been in the background"
for their family.
said she immediately bonded with Paul Ganas in their Ojibwe language
classes together because she could tell he genuinely cared about
the culture and wanted to learn with an open mind.
appreciate that - that he's willing to learn about a culture other
than his own," Nelson said.
Ganas has no American Indian background in his own heritage, he
began taking an American Indian Studies course almost every semester
just for fun. Soon Ganas, who was initially undeclared, realized
he had accidentally discovered his passion, and declared an American
Indian Studies major.
know that he's enjoying learning again," Cathy Ganas said.
"I think he had a few semesters where he was just going through
the paces, but I think this has just hooked him."
Ganas said she is excited to see that fire in her son and enjoys
how he often talks to her about studying Ojibwe in graduate school
and returning to the Red Cliff Reservation.
recently, Paul Ganas helped circulate a petition to save the campus'
Council Oak Tree, where warring Ojibwe and Dakota tribes are believed
to have met for peace councils.
the students' own camp in Iron River was more language-based, Ganas
said they tried to incorporate culture as much as possible, cooking
traditional meals and making jewelry, cold and flu remedies and
kinnikinnick, a herbal offering.
wanted to use culture in whatever we were teaching,"
said. "We used that as a guide to develop the curriculum."
had planned to teach younger Ojibwe children, mostly kindergartners,
and were surprised when a large group of teenage boys arrived at
first the students were unsure how the teens would react to the
basic lessons they had prepared, but Ganas and Nelson said all of
the children were eager to learn.
were all very interested," Nelson said. "We taught them
some things and
by the end, I felt like we had made a real
their tutees came and went, about half of the 50 or so stayed for
the entire three days.
camp was a first introduction to the language for many of the Ojibwe
children, Ganas said. The majority were from the Mole Lake reservation,
near Crandon, Wis., and those who did know some Ojibwe could speak
a few words, but not complete sentences, he said.
the past, European settlers made it illegal for tribes to teach
their language and religion, and in some places it technically still
is, Geniusz said.
language camps are a chance to "undo" that suppression
and reestablish a commitment to the Ojibwe language and heritage,
honestly felt weird, also, being of European descent, fully, going
and teaching kids a language that is theirs," Tate said.
Geniusz, a graduate student studying history at UW-Eau Claire, said
he was equally concerned about the children's reaction to being
taught by non-natives. He is also the chairman of the Chicaugon
Chippewa tribe in Iron River.
didn't know if they'd be accepted by native people either,"
Errol Geniusz said, "
but it worked out, they just kind
of thought of them as older teenagers."
Geniusz said speaking Ojibwe is sometimes stigmatized, especially
by whites, which often discourages natives from learning. But he
said he thought the Eau Claire students' dedication really promoted
the language and encouraged the children to pursue post-secondary
makes them feel better about wanting to learn their language,"
Errol Geniusz said.
and Tabbut were surprised how the kids attached to Ganas, because
they said they and Nelson are more outgoing and friendly, while
Ganas is more responsible and reserved.
of the kids wanted to talk to him all the time," Tabbut said.
Makoons Geniusz said they received overwhelmingly positive responses
about the camp on their feedback surveys.
were actually hoping for some constructive criticism, I mean, we
really wanted to improve it, but we only got positive stuff,"
she said. "The only constructive criticism is that it wasn't
in Eau Claire
returning to Eau Claire, the four students worked with Geniusz to
develop a syllabus for the three-credit summer course, AIS 314/514:
Ojibwe Language Camps.
experience was a trial run for the course, which is now under review
by the College of Arts and Science's curriculum committee, Geniusz
said. If approved, the course would be open to any student who has
at least taken AIS 112 (the second semester of Ojibwe language).
would spend the month of July at Red Cliff Reservation, running
a language camp at Iron River and then spending an "intense
couple of weeks" in Eau Claire to learn how to continue teaching
Ojibwe, Geniusz said. Students can take the course multiple times
for credit, she added.
less than one year left before graduation, Ganas is focusing on
his capstone project, a book of Ojibwe language lessons.
said he is working on developing lessons using more verbs, because
many of the current teaching materials are simple word lists of
nouns, but Ojibwe is verb-dominant.
he is applying to graduate programs at the University of Minnesota-Twin
Cities, the University of New Mexico and the University of California-Davis.
He said he'd like to continue studying Ojibwe to build from his
two years of language studies at Eau Claire.
what's really driven me in the past year - language learning."
watch archived classes, visit www.uwec.edu/ais/ojibwe.htm