WIKWEMIKONG—The next time you are searching for the perfect phrase in one of the Three Fires Confederacy languages, Odawa, Ojibwe and Pottawatami, remember that there is now an app for that.
Shane Cooper, Wikwemikong’s Language App Coordinator, headed up the project to create a 21st century resource for those working on retaining and strengthening the region’s indigenous languages.
“The Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve chief and council have made an investment in language retention and promotion by utilizing modern technology,” said Mr. Cooper. “The ancestral language of the community is Odawa,” he explained, “but the app now includes all three distinct dialects of the Anishinaabe language.”
The language app, now available on Google Play and soon to be available in the Apple Store and iTunes, will work on both the Android and Apple platforms for smartphones and tablets.
“The new app is an excellent tool that can be used to assist us in our 10-Year language strategy plan to preserve and retain the language of our nation here in Wikwemikong,” said Wikwemikong Chief Duke Peltier. “This new technological tool is a viable option to provide easy access to our language for our youth and others who want to learn the language. This is an exciting development for us.”
“Wikwemikong language speakers are a valued asset throughout the Great Lakes region,” said Wikwemikong Band Councillor Luke Wassegijig. “We now have a modern technological tool that we can use to teach our children the language while at the same time, offer a viable product to the market.”
Mr. Cooper explained that the process of developing the app began in 2013, when the Naagdaawendaandaa Anishinaabemowin subcommittee of the Wikwemikong Heritage Organization determined through its regional gatherings throughout the Wikwemikong territory that the “most important outcome from these gatherings is the recognition and acknowledgement that retention of the language is critical.”
“It started out as an Odawa language app, but because of the three dialects of Anishinaabemowin it grew to encompass all three,” he said. Mr. Cooper noted that the nuances of Anishinaabemowin take on slight variations in the different communities of Wikwemikong. “In the village itself it can be sort of a combination of all three,” he said. As the three language groups come together in Wikwemikong’s largest community, they have tended to become somewhat mixed and mingled
Once the idea to produce an app was decided, Mr. Cooper was brought on board for his expertise as a graphic designer and marketer and he brought with him a solid dose of reality. “I think the committee originally thought that this would be a quick project,” he laughed. In fact, creating an application took a remarkably quick turnaround of nine months, despite its increased complexity.
The original idea was simply a list of nouns and verbs, but language is far more complex than that. “They said to us, ‘okay, we know how to say the nouns and the verbs, but how do we use them in a sentence?’” recalled Mr. Cooper. The app soon expanded into common phrases and conversational sentences.
Mr. Cooper started out at a tiny desk on the ground floor of the WHO building, but it wasn’t long until the upstairs of the building, largely utilized for storage, was reorganized to create a studio and much larger workspace.
The project, which is funded by the Wikwemikong Band, took on an experienced partner, Thorton Media Inc, a Las Vegas based group of software developers who have created applications for over 200 North American tribal groups spanning the entire continent. “They helped us a great deal,” said Mr. Cooper.
The resources available through the Wikwemikong Board of Education’s language resources project were also a major boon to getting the project up and ‘complete.’ But Mr. Cooper noted that as a living language, Anishinaabemowin continues to create words to describe the many new things that appear in the modern world.
With the success of the app now complete, the WHO has been inspired to take on a new challenge. “We are getting into animation,” said Mr. Cooper. “We are looking at a series that will be similar to a Dora the Explorer format.”