Bemidji, Minnesota, a town of 14,000 between the reservations of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and White Earth Band of Ojibwe, is labeling objects around town with Ojibwe terms (like Ininiwag (men) and Ikwewag (women) on bathroom signs), as in Hawaii where words like aloha (hello/goodbye/love) and mahalo (thank you) are posted everywhere and have entered English as loan words. Michael Meuers (who works for the Red Lake Band of Chippewa in government and PR) got the idea from living in Hawaii for a year, and set the goal of putting Ojibwa language bathroom signs in 20 businesses with the help of the local anti-discrimination organization Shared Visions, offering to use his own money, the practice of labeling public artifacts in Ojibwa went viral:
Noemi Aylesworth, owner of the Cabin Coffeehouse, was the first to put the signs up. Then she painted an Ojibwe greeting, boozhoo, (“welcome”) on her front door and printed small signs with several Ojibwe words and their English translations, to put on the cafe’s tables.
The first 20 businesses were signed up in just a couple of weeks. The language project now has 119 businesses participating — a food market has labeled all of its foods in Ojibwe; a fabric store has bilingual labels for all of its threads and fabrics; the hospital intends to use Ojibwe signs in the new emergency room being built; a funeral home wants to display a prayer for the bereaved in Ojibwe.
- Tanya Lee, Indian Country Today
By the way, this is a great trick for memorizing foreign language vocabulary you can implement in your own home.
Now, Bemidji State University has gone Ojibwa labeling crazy, translating greetings, parking lot designations and posters. Not bad for a university with about 250 Native students, and a language spoken by fewer than 1,000 individuals in the United States (many more in Canada).