Innovative Anishinaabemowin project launches 49ers podcast short stories

Back row, Tracy Cleland, Wes Jr. Cleland, Phyllis Kimewon, Lorraine Bebamikawe, Viola Recollet. Ray Jackson, Eugene Kimewon, Tom Wemigwans, Liz Wemigwans, front row, little girl Isadora Cleland, Trey Cleland, Gertie Manitowabi,  Sally Recollet, Wasskone Cleland and Gordie Odjig.

SOUTH BAY—Dire predictions abound for Indigenous languages across North America, but one hardy group of determined Wiikwemkoong volunteers has set out to turn the tide and revitalize Anishinaabemowin in their communities. Nawewin Gamik, a brainchild of author, playwright and activist Alanis King, is a family and community-based project that is harnessing the power of elders and other language speakers to bridge the gap to instill the language in youth.

The Nawewin Gamik crew launched the 49ers Project, a group of podcasts, during a day-long celebration held at the South Bay Community Hall recently.

Organizer Tracy Cleland shared the group’s story and the group’s journey on the road to publishing 49 short stories online as a series of podcasts during a short launch ceremony.

She described how Ms. King helped set up a not-for-profit and governing structure in order to apply for funding for the project. “We were told that, as a first-time applicant, we probably wouldn’t be successful,” shared Ms. Cleland. But successful they very much were, to the tune of over $100,000.

“Alanis came in with an idea,” said Ms. Cleland, “she came to the elders and we did the proposal.”

“Originally, we were planning on producing 365 short story or monologue podcasts,” said Ms. Cleland, noting the ambitious plans the group has, “one for each day of the year.”

The initial group of 49 podcasts was uploaded and launched last week, following the launch ceremony which featured three of the podcasts. Each short story featured in the podcast is presented entirely in Anishinaabemowin and is designed to be simple and accessible for those who are trying to learn the language.

“They are accessible to everyone all across the globe,” said Ms. Cleland, noting that she had to learn the ins and outs of uploading to Spotify and YouTube. “It was a bit of a learning curve,” she laughed.

“All of the speakers are from Wiikwemkoong,” she said. “The youngest was five years old, all the way up to our elders.”

Ms. Cleland said that, although the group had originally planned for a launch in December, the pandemic caused a delay. “But I felt we needed to have a launch to recognize all the effort that went into making this a reality.”

The initial group of short stories is divided into groups delineated by the colours orange, pink, blue, green and orange. Writing credits for the stories include: Ms. King, Lorraine Bebamikwe, Phyliss Williams, W. Cleland and W. Wemigwans, Cyndie Wemigwans, Viola Recollet, Doris Peltier, Shirley Williams, Joe Peltier, Muriel Assinewai, Mary Lou Manitowabi, Cecelia Pitawanakwat, Ray Jackson, Marlene Shawana, Steven George, Gloria Eshkibok, Cecil King, Jeff Eshkawkogan, Agnes Manitowabi, Cotnee Kaboni, Mark Eshkawkogan, Martina Osawamick, Joey Wemigwans, Sally Recollect, Violet Pitawanakwat, Jacob Wemigwans, Eugene Manitowabi, Gordie Odjig, Tom Wemigwans, Wiky Drum Committee, Bev Naokwegijig, Jacob Wemigwans, Gertie Manitowabi, Tish Manitowabi, Pat Osawamick and Tecla Neganigijig.

“You also have to add Dwayne Animikwan, who did the editing, Jason Manitowabi and ‘music guy’ Leland Bell,” said Ms. Cleland.

Plans are in the works for further applications to help build the library up to the envisioned 365 podcasts.

“Thanks goes out to Ontario Arts Council for the funding to help make this happen,” said Ms. Cleland.

The podcasts can be found at Nanaamwin.ca and on Spotify, with the display name Nawewin Gamik. The podcasts were made available on April 20.