TRAVERSE CITY — Isadore Toulouse is tired of history books that mischaracterize his culture.
The longtime Anishinaabemowin language teacher said lessons about Native American culture are far too frequently retold by non-Native instructors; it can paint a distorted picture of their traditional way of life. And Toulouse may soon be leading a revitalization of the endangered language to local college students.
“I think it’s important for anyone and everyone to learn and understand who we are as Anishinaabe people instead of hearing it from history books,” he said. “We have enough educated people that can do those same things. … There’s a big resurgence of teaching out there. It’s something that’s long overdue.”
Northwestern Michigan College officials — with support from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians — plan to launch two new language classes: Anishinaabemowin I and II. Both classes are elementary level and haven’t been offered in about two decades.
Toulouse taught the language for 36 years, most recently at Suttons Bay Public Schools through its Title VII Indian education program. He said a reduction in grant funding sliced his position to less than part time last year. And NMC was quick to nab the opportunity to bring in a local expert.
“It’s a language we want to retain in our community,” said Stephen Siciliano, NMC’s vice president for educational services. “These are individuals who can still teach it and there’s an interest to learn more about the language. … I’ve been very supportive of pursuing this.”
Todd Parker oversees the college’s office for Native American Student Services and plans to present a proposal for the two classes to a curriculum committee on Friday. It’s the last step before officials can start marketing the courses for student enrollment.
Parker said the classes could be beneficial for those taking other courses in Native American studies. They can also benefit students looking to enter a career in historic preservation or museum curation, he said. And, perhaps most importantly, it offers a connection to a rich and vibrant culture.
“This features a culture that’s been here long before the college,” Parker added. “It opens the door for culture for a lot of Native American people in the Grand Traverse Region. Here on campus, it affords a better awareness of tribal citizens and the cultural aspects of what they bring to campus.”
Anishinaabemowin I will — pending board approval — be offered this fall. The next section likely will be available in the spring depending on student interest and the success of the first class, Parker said. And it’s all part of a broader initiative to revive a historic language in jeopardy of disappearing.
Toulouse said his elders would often speak to him in the…