Twin Cities Public Television: Creating Dialogue through a Lost Language
Courtesy of Twin Cities Public Television

Twin Cities Public Television: Creating Dialogue through a Lost Language

In recognition of American Indian Heritage Month this month, public media is celebrating its long history of helping to preserve native culture and sharing it with both native and non-native audiences across the country.

Nationally, Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT) works closely with CPB and Native producers to develop, produce and distribute educational and informational programs focused on the experiences, values and cultures of American Indians and Alaska Natives across all media, including public television and public radio.

In addition, National Native News, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), has for over 20 years provided public radio listeners with the only daily news and information program produced and delivered from a Native American perspective.

Locally, public broadcasting stations, such as OETA in Oklahoma, KNME in New Mexico, KNBA in Alaska, and Twin Cities Public Television in St. Paul, Minnesota are committed to meeting the information and cultural needs of Native communities and helping non-native audiences understand the interconnectedness with their Native American neighbors.

First Speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe Language, a documentary produced by Twin Cities Public Television, features the efforts of fluent Ojibwe speakers and young Ojibwe scholars and educators to revitalize, restore and pass-on the Ojibwe language.

Ojibwe is the language of the Anishinaabe people. As recently as World War II, members of the tribe used it in everyday life, but over the past few decades English has become more dominant, particularly among younger people. Today, it is estimated that there are fewer than 1,000 fluent Ojibwe speakers left in the United States – most of them older and concentrated in small areas of northern Minnesota.

Dianne Steinbach, tpt’s executive director for Arts & Cultural Media, says the film, “documents the stories of Native American elders and if – as many of our experts predict – the tide of language loss can be reversed, then this program will serve as a valuable time capsule, documenting a crucial phase in the process of language revitalization. Ultimately, I think this is a story filled with hope for the future.”

The documentary focuses on two Ojibwe schools that use immersion teaching. Here, students are taught entirely in the Ojibwe language and within the framework of the Anishinaabe values, traditions and culture.

A unique aspect of the schools is the collaboration between the elder Ojibwe speakers and the teachers who have learned Ojibwe as their second language, after English. Working together, these groups have revitalized a language on the brink of extinction and preserved a rich culture that the next generation can pass on to their children and grandchildren.

Niigaane Ojibwemowin Immersion School
Courtesy of Twin Cities Public Television

According to John Whitehead, the film's producer, "This is a generational story that starts with a generation of educators with incredible commitment who taught themselves the language and who went out and learned about language immersion education. They connected with the elders, so key to the future of the language, and brought them together with the children. In the process, they are healing their community. These folks are the heroes."

To learn more about the Ojibwe language and culture, please visit the Ojibwe-English dictionary. The dictionary is a searchable, talking website, featuring the voices of Ojibwe speakers.

Based in St. Paul, Twin Cities Public Television (tpt) was incorporated in 1955. It is a non-profit organization that operates public television stations KTCA-TV and KTCI-TV in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. tpt is one of the highest rated PBS affiliates in the nation, reaching over 1.3 million people each month through multiple broadcast and online channels. Funding for First Speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe Language was made possible by the State Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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