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Learning Ojibwe with Jennifer Bobiwash

Jennnifer Bobiwash is a writer, actor, and producer whose work focuses on her interest in her own roots: the Ojibwe.

The Ojibwe (also known as the Chippewa) are a Native American tribe stretched across the Northern United States and Canada. Part of the larger language family of Algonquin, the Ojibwe are one of the more populous groups of Native Americans remaining.

Map of Spoken Ojibwe (from Wikipedia)

Map of Spoken Ojibwe (from Wikipedia)

As her interest in her origins grew, Jennifer launched a YouTube Channel where she teaches words, sentences and expressions from her indigenous language. As she continues to explore the language, she adds to her various channels, including an Ojibwe word of the day, or This Day in American Indian History. In the videos, she plays the character Geraldine Chases-her-Tail.

To learn more about her project to teach the Ojibwe language through youtube and twitter, Jennifer gave us an interview.

Rising Voices: What brought about your interest in learning more about the Ojibwe language?

 Growing up, I didn't have the privilege of being around Ojibwe speakers.  My grandmother knew a few words, and I picked up a few – what I thought were “bad” words as a child – but because I wasn't immersed in the culture, it wasn't something I thought much about.  When I was deciding what my You Tube channel should be about, I found that an educational channel would serve a different niche than a skit or comedy channel…  That and I can't sing, so a music channel was out of the question.

RV: Who taught you – and why did you decide to spread the word and teach others ?

 I was shopping at a trading post with a friend and as I was waiting for her I was looking through the book section.  Being in Los Angeles, there aren't many books about Ojibwe, so when I saw an Ojibwe dictionary (which I'd never seen before) I had to buy it.  At the time, I was making a video for a contest and thought I needed a gimmick.  Hence, Geraldine Chases-her-Tail was born.  After making the contest video, a friend asked what else Geraldine would do, of which I wasn't sure.  After thinking about it and reading some of the comments people left, I realized this was an opportunity for me to learn more about my own heritage.  And if others watch my videos and learn, it's a plus.  So I never started out with the intention of teaching others, since I was still learning myself.  But since then, some Ojibwe language speakers have found me and offered their help.

RV: Why do you use humor in your videos?

…I'm just being me. I try to encourage viewers to leave comments or create video responses to mine.  I hope that viewers will try to use the word in a sentence and let me know how they use it.  It's a great way for others, who know the language, to share the correct use of the word, as I'm still learning, I can never know if I'm using it correctly for the language.

RV: What were some challenges you faced in putting this together?

The challenges faced are the language itself.  Have you seen some of those words?  There are a lot of vowels in there!

RV: Do you know others using Ojibway online ? Would you say you have served as a model of inspiration to others? 

There are others online who are using the language.  I hope I can serve as an inspiration to others.

RV: How do you think you can further develop reviving Ojibway and guarantee it has a permanent online present?  Do you have any other projects?

I think by the simple fact that my videos are online are a testament to ensuring an online presence.  Once it's online, it's there for good.  And it's just a question of people finding the videos, as well as the marketing of it so people can find it. I'm currently working on a dramatic web series called “Collide” that deals with a common theme of 1 person leaving their own world and venturing out to explore a new one and the challenges they face.  I'm helping out some friends with their web-series about a temp agency called “Short Term” and I'm writing another educational pilot.  I'm also working on a solo theater project.

You can also follow these projects and others of Jennifer's on twitter @Bobiwash and check out her blog.

1 comment

  • john Cullen

    I study Mayan languages and have recently become interested in Ojibwe. I am interested in an advanced textbook of Ojibwe with exercises for adults I am not an author and have only written a few articles on Celtic languages.

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