In July 2010 Turtle Mountain Community College hosted their first Michif elderly forum. The forum made the elders more aware of the critical need to revitalize the Michif language before it becomes extinct and lost forever to the future generations of the Turtle Mountain people. This fear lies deep in the hearts of the elders who are gladly willing to document and preserve the words for our descendants.
The forum was a first step in establishing how best to protect and preserve one of the local languages. The elder’s comments were sad, however true. “I never heard so much Michif being spoken in such a long time.” “Usually I get tired at these long meetings, but just listening to what has been said kept me interested in the whole thing. I didn’t get tired for one minute," and. “I want to thank you for doing this and I agree we need to make this language mandatory and get someone to teach our children.”
As the day went on, the elders shared more stories of long ago. Many forgotten memories came rushing to the surface. Near the end of the forum, the group shared a feast of Michif foods, boiled hamburger and potatoes (bullets), bangs (fry bread), and raisin pie for dessert. Michif is a combination of French, Cree, and Ojibwe languages and came to be because of the fur trade and inter-marriage of the French fur trader and our Ojibwe women.
In September 2011, TMCC hosted a weekend Ojibwe Speakers Forum. The reason TMCC held the speakers forum so late in the summer period was that many ceremonies took place during the summer months. Ceremonies include fasting, rain dances, sun dances, sweat lodges, naming, and healing. The college held the speakers forum in late fall when more elders that are traditional could attend.
There is a definite and critical need to revitalize, document, and preserve the languages spoken at Turtle Mountain. The sense of urgency comes from knowing that the voices will soon be stilled by death and must be captured before the languages become distant memories.
Like the magnificent American Bald Eagle, the Ojibwe language must come back for future generations of the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe and Michif peoples. Approximately 25 elders, parents and small children gathered at the Anishinaabe Cultural and Wellness camp.
There was a time when organized religion dominated our community. Fortunately, some of our elders kept our traditional ceremonies alive even though it was against the law. In 1978, the United States government passed The Freedom of Religion Act. Since that time and before then for some of our Ojibwe people, the Anishinaabeg and the Seven Teachings has become a way of life for many. But without our elders' support, we would not be able to bring back our languages and ceremonies.
"The Turtle Mountain community language project has brought to light that the preservation and documentation of both languages is at a critical point,” said Larry Henry, program director and academic dean at the college.