Speaking Ojibwe an 'act of defiance' says 19-year-old language teacher

Aandeg Muldrew, 19, is the University of Manitoba’s youngest sessional instructor, teaching Introductory Ojibwe.
Aandeg Muldrew is the the University of Manitoba’s youngest sessional instructor, teaching Introductory Ojibwe. (Submitted by Maeengan Linklater)

Originally published March 11, 2018

Aandeg Muldrew, 19, is the University of Manitoba's youngest sessional instructor, teaching introductory Ojibwe.

Muldrew, who lives in Winnipeg, started learning the language from his grandmother when he was 10. She invited him out to an immersion camp, where she was teaching adults.

"We would sit under this tent and learn the language," said Muldrew. "Or we would walk around and learn words in the environment right there."

For Muldrew, the immersive camps were a chance to think in Ojibwe, "thinking how you'd say that and preparing ahead of time," for anything you might want to communicate to the group.

Beyond the camps, Muldrew started speaking Ojibwe with his grandmother casually, on car rides to and from the camps. He also started taking her classes in Winnipeg.
Pocket Ojibwe features useful phrases to help you get by in the Anishinaabe language. (Mazinaate Inc. )

His grandmother, Patricia M. Ningewance, is an Ojibwe language teacher and has written books, including Pocket Ojibwe.

"When I started going to her classes there at the university … that's when I realized that like I had this, this gift … to know the language," said Muldrew.

Ningewance was able to speak her language growing up, and although she did attend residential school for a short time, she did not lose her fluency. But, Muldrew said, his father did not grow up speaking the language.

Despite teaching and speaking Ojibwe, Muldrew said it's often "still a struggle to think in Ojibwe because I'm always just getting brought back into … English" being surrounded by it in Winnipeg.  

Given the history of languages lost after colonization and residential schools, speaking the language is "almost like an act of defiance," said Muldrew, who encourages other young Indigenous people to just start talking to fluent speakers in their lives.

If it seems daunting at first, Muldrew tells his students to think of Ojibwe as any other language, which breaks down to a set of rules that you can learn bit by bit.

For him, speaking Ojibwe is a way of "reconciling our past … with the present and bringing … what was lost through all these" residential schools and colonization.

"I have a sense of pride in being able to speak to my grandma," he said.