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Watersmeet public schools include Ojibwe language and culture in curriculum

Watersmeet artwork
Watersmeet Township Schools Facebook

The Watersmeet Township School District is making a change this school year. It’s bringing Ojibwe language and culture into the classroom.

When Alina Shively was a student in Watersmeet, her Ojibwe heritage was largely ignored in the public schools.

“It was actually kind of unheard of for any of our language or culture to be acknowledged on a daily basis,” she says. “Everybody knew we were native kids and where we lived in town and where we were from, but it was never really embraced.”

This year, that’s changing.

The school district is working with a consultant for Native American best practices to better include its indigenous students, who represent nearly 80 percent of the school’s student body.

“We just want to make sure that everyone feels welcomed and appreciated at the Watersmeet Township School District,” says George Peterson III, the district’s superintendent.

He says some of the changes the school is implementing are small, like including Ojibwe greetings in daily announcements.

“Every morning, we’ve added to our morning announcements boozhoo, which means hello, and then when she closes, she says miigwech, or thank you,” Peterson says.

Teachers are also making a concerted effort to include Ojibwe language and history in their lessons.

“It’s pretty eye opening for everyone to see what that culture has gone through and the way they were treated. It’s pretty sad really,” Peterson says. “We want to help them get through that, and the way to do that is we have to teach them about it and move on from there.”

For Alina Shively, who is now the historic preservation officer for the Lac Vieux Desert tribe and a mother of three, these small changes represent a monumental shift from the time her parents attended an American Indian boarding school.

“Education hasn’t been a fun experience in my family history,” she says. “I can say that is really changing for my kids and all of our kids.”

Erin Gottsacker joined WXPR in December 2020. As a Morning Edition host and reporter, Erin reports on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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