Roxanne Marten's grandfather inspired her to learn Ojibwe

When her grandfather was close to death, he reverted to speaking only the Ojibwe language and Roxanne Marten couldn’t understand what he was saying. The experience inspired her to go back to school and learn the language.

Journey to reclaim her language includes creating children’s books in Ojibwe and teaching

Roxanne Marten's journey to reclaim her language includes creating children's books in Ojibwe. (Submitted by Roxanne Marten)

When Roxanne Marten's grandfather was very ill and in the hospital, he started speaking fluently in Ojibwe. "I couldn't understand what he was saying," said Marten. "But he wouldn't answer anymore in English."

"It was really, really interesting for me to see him on his last days because the fluency of his language was like I've never seen that come out of his mouth," she said. "So that was really, really interesting and intriguing for me." 

That's what inspired Marten to register in the Anishinaabemowin Program at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie.

Marten is an artist so she started in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program with all of her electives in Anishinaabemowin to regain her language and her culture. 

"I had to jump into university-level Ojibwe just so that I could grasp it and hear it and kind of get more familiar with it, said Marten.

Her journey to reclaim her language has included creating children's books in Ojibwe and in Lac Seul with Teach for Canada, a non-profit organization that works with northern First Nations. 

"We're trying to do more of a land-based approach with students going out on the land," she said. "I think we're trying to get away from that westernized way of teaching our children," she added. 

"If we had more talking tables instead of math class," said Marten, "we would have tables talking about math, but talking about it in the language instead," said Marten. 

"It really needs to be the two-way system between elders and now our youth and then the youth that come after us," she said. 

In this week's feature on Indigenous languages in northern Ontario, we'll speak with an Ojibwe language teacher who recently began her career, and hear what she hopes for the future of her language. 7:41

With files from Waubgeshig Rice