By Rick Garrick
BIIGTIGONG NISHNAABEG—Biigtigong Nishnaabeg has created a Biigtigong Language Project website to share information about the Biigtigong Dictionary, verb charts, audio and video recordings and other developments with community members.
“Since we are making this a dialect-specific project, community involvement, community empowerment and communication with the community was critical,” says JoAnne Michano, Biigtigong Nishnaabeg’s band manager and co-director of dialect revitalization. “We realized very quickly that we needed some sort of vehicle to house the information. So we looked at [different] options of apps, but we chose to do a website and have that house as much information that we could possibly transfer over to our community and keep them informed and keep them updated.”
In addition to the dictionary, verb charts and audio and video recordings, the website also features Biigtigong-dialect phrase recordings, the Biigtigong Aadsookaanan reclaiming of sacred stories initiative as well as information about other aspects of the Biigtigong Language Project.
“The focus is on reconstruction of dialect and proper grammar,” says Biigtigong Nishnaabeg Chief Duncan Michano. “We went down the path of immersion in the past and it wasn’t working because the dialect wasn’t right.”
Biigtigong Nishnaabeg began working on the reconstruction and documentation of the Biigtigong-dialect in 2013 after a variety of Anishinaabemowin initiatives were held over the previous decade. The project included the efforts of a team of Anishinaabemowin speakers from the community and John Paul Montano, Biigtigong Nishnaabeg’s co-director of dialect revitalization.
“We realized we were not creating speakers and in fact we were not even creating people who got to understand the language,” JoAnne says about the previous Anishinaabemowin initiatives. “We were creating individuals who had a few memorized phrases, people who could count to 100, and then as we looked further down the line, we found out the things they memorized in elementary school certainly weren’t reinforced anywhere and they forgot it.”
Biigtigong Nishnaabeg reconstructed the Biigtigong dialect through the use of grammar bridging from the related Odawa dialect, linguistic research and study of the structure and grammatical breakdown of Anishinaabemowin and Biigtigong’s language.
“Dialect is something that is the same, but it is something that is different,” Montano says. “It is very important that it is implemented and expressed in the Biigtigong Language Project. Who are we, what is our mission on this Earth, why were we born, where do our people come from, how come we were given life, how come we exist on this part of Mother Earth. These questions all are asked and answered …within a certain dialect. It is very important that a language and stories and certainly collective recommendations from thousands of years of our ancestors are passed to us in the correct dialect.”
JoAnne says the community was fortunate to have a resource of Biigtigong-dialect audio recordings and written memoirs by seven community members from 1959.
“Those seven men have been our guiding light and have really made this project possible,” JoAnne says. “It’s given us lots of valuable information, but more importantly it has reminded us, and we have asked the question: ‘Why did they do this?’ So it has opened up a whole lot of possibilities in terms of the reconstruction work we have done, but also in terms of the sense of the community pride, the sense of community ownership and for us to take responsibility for the loss we feel and we felt.”
The second phase of the Biigtigong Language Project involves the use of immersion utilizing the Biigtigong dialect.