Anton Treuer is a citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and a professor of Ojibwe language at Bemidji State University in Minnesota. Photo: TEDxBemidji

Mary Annette Pember: A warrior for the Ojibwe language

Growing up Indigenous isn't always easy, as Anton Treuer, a citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, found out in Minnesota.

But times are changing. Writing for Al Jazeera, independent journalist Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, reports on Treuer's efforts to revitalize the Ojibwe language in the same community where he was once subjected to racism and discrimination:

Anton Treuer grew up in the Deep North.

Just as the Deep South is associated with racial antipathy, so too is the great regional swath of land spanning Northern Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota for native Americans.

Treuer is a citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe tribe, whose lands border the small city of Bemidji, Minnesota, in the heart of the Deep North.

Surrounded by three Ojibwe reservations - Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth - Bemidji is a border town (predominantly white and known for racial hostility towards native people) if ever there was one.

"When I went to Bemidji public schools in the 1980s, there were no native teachers, no native police officers, no native people in charge," he recalls from a vacant classroom overlooking a manicured campus in the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University.

The 50 year old is now in his 20th year as a professor of Ojibwe language at the university, but he is still among just a handful of indigenous language professors teaching in US universities.

The resource centre is the hub of native life for students and the community. It houses collections of the intricate floral beadwork for which Ojibwe are known and large black and white portraits of notable Ojibwe leaders hang in the great room, which functions as a classroom as well as a community space for ceremonies and meetings.

It is a showpiece for both the city and the university; a celebration of native peoples. But things were not always this way in Bemidji.

Read More on the Story
Mary Annette Pember: 'Decolonise and re-indigenise': The Ojibwe language warrior (Al Jazeera December 19, 2019)

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