NMU embraces new major and new prof

Winter Keefer

This is the first semester that NMU is offering  a major in Native American studies, and Northern is the the only university in Michigan to offer the program as a full 4-year Bachelor of Science degree.

re-Headshot.JudSojournNew assistant professor Jud Sojourn, who is a fluent speaker of Anishinaabe language, was welcomed by the Native American studies department at the beginning of this fall semester and will be teaching Native American Experience (NAS 204), Michigan and Wisconsin Tribal Relations (NAS 212) and also Anishinaabe Language, Culture and Communications (NAS 101).

Sojourn considers himself approximately 65-85 percent fluent in reading Anishinaabe and 50-80 percent fluent in listening and speaking the language, having studied two dialects of Ojibwe – Southwestern Ojibwe or Anishnaabemwin, and Eastern Ojibwe or Odawa. It is very hard to measure fluency, he said. Sojourn believes that it is likely he will be fluent in these two dialects within a decade.

Sojourn is also fluent in Spanish language with a specialization in Venezuelan and Bolivian dialects. He uses the experience of learning Spanish as a skill providing a sense for approaches to teaching and how to better develop learning materials related to languages and literature.

“There is no doubt that the Anishinaabe language can be brought back in my mind,” he said.

Anishinaabe has a reputation for being a very challenging language, but that is not actually the case, Sojourn said.

“It’s difficult when you’re coming from English because you can’t cheat,” Sojourn said. “Like if you’re studying Spanish, it’s so similar to English that you can kind of make guesses as to words like television to televisor. You can’t do that with Anishinaabee because the languages are just so different, but the language itself is not more or less difficult.”

Sojourn received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from University of Wisconsin-Madison, a master’s degree from University of Minnesota-Duluth, and a Ph.D in indigenous studies from Trent University. His dissertation for his Ph.D focused on living stories told in the ancestral language.

“NMU is right in the geographical center of the Anishinabe Nation, so this area has a special significance,” Sojourn said. “This university was built on Anishinaabe land.”

The residential school and boarding school project that started in the 19th century and continued well into the 20th century attempted to erase all of the language, Sojourn said. This, along with the isolation of native groups, caused much of the language to be forgotten.

“They tried to erase it, and it almost worked,” he said. “So, many many people lost their language, and it was just a small number of people who kept it.”

Many children were hidden by relatives or moved to other communities in secret, Sojourn said. Sometimes families made deals with priests to keep children longer.

“I remember one instance, one of the elder’s native parents made a deal with a priest: ‘if we teach our child the catechism, can we keep our child for three more years?’ She was seven at the time,” he said.

“The priest said, ‘ok, if you teach her the catechism.’ But they sort of tricked the priest by teaching the catechism in the language, and during those three years they taught her everything they possibly could about the old ways, the plants—the language—the medicines, and that was another strategy that people used to cope with the residential and boarding school project,” Sojourn said.

“The most important things are still there, which is how people understand the idea of family and that family extending into the rest of the world like nature is still there. The way that people care for each other is still there. Humor is still there,” Sojourn said. “All of those things are still there.”

Sojourn encourages students to take a Native American studies course, whether or not it has anything to do with their major.

“It’s really a discipline where your mind will come alive in a way that you might not have expected,” he said.