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Local businesses go bilingual

Jan Dechampeau, manager of the Beaver Bookstore, has started selling T-shirts stating the name of Bemidji State University in the Ojibwe language. The Beaver Bookstore is among many other local businesses that have included the Ojibwe language in their stores as part of a community-wide effort started by Shared Vision, an organization dedicated to improving relations between American Indians and non-Indians in the community. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

With a little more practice, Jan Dechampeau hopes to say, "Amik Mazina'igan Adaawewigamig," without pause.

Translated, the words mean Beaver Bookstore in English.

Dechampeau, manager of the Beaver Bookstore located at 107 23rd St. N.E. in Bemidji, was visited by Michael Meuers, a volunteer with Shared Vision. Meuers asked Dechampeau if she would incorporate the Ojibwe language into her store. She agreed.

Shared Vision is an organization dedicated to improving relations between American Indians and non-Indians in the community.

The Beaver Bookstore is among 71 area businesses including the Ojibwe language into store signage as part of Shared Vision's community-wide effort to increase cultural awareness.

Dechampeau ordered T-shirts with the words "Bemijigamaag Gabe-Gikendaasowigamig," which translates to Bemidji State University.

She hopes the bilingual T-shirts will reach out to Native American students at BSU and the public.

"Bemijigamaag" is the original name of Bemidji. "Gabe" means "whole," "entire," "universal," or "university." Gikendaaso means "to know" and "wigamig" means "house."

Dechampeau said she plans to expand her bilingual apparel to include more than T-shirts to such items as mugs and water bottles.

"(Dechampeau) was very eager to participate in the effort," Meuers said. "So many businesses have done the same."

Discussions about improving relations between American Indians and non-Indians in Bemidji has been ongoing for years without much change occurring, Meuers said.

"There has been this 'wait-and-see attitude,' with Indian people because they are told all these broken promises of change," Meuers said. "I found nothing speaks louder than symbols."

Meuers hopes to see the culture of Bemidji transform to a comfortable symbolism like that of Hawaii's.

Hawaiian words, such as "aloha" (hello), "hula" (dance) and "Mele Kalikimaka" (Merry Christmas) have been mainstreamed into society. Flowered leis and hula skirts have become symbols of Hawaii's indigenous culture, Meuers said.

"The language there is used all the time in everyday culture," Meuers said. "We don't do that here with Indian culture."

Meuers hopes the Ojibwe word "boozhoo" (hello) will be as commonly recognized as "aloha."

"I remember being told at a restaurant I had to use the outhouse out back if I needed to use a restroom," Meuers said. "I saw a need for real change to remove racism from communities."

Shared Vision's original goal was to get at least 20 businesses a year to volunteer to add Ojibwe signage. Meuers said he was pleased to see so many local businesses taking to Shared Vision's effort.

Meuers said he has received numerous letters and phone calls from Native Americans who said Shared Vision's effort have made them feel respected and welcomed.

"Symbolism is profound in its simplicity," Meuers said. "It brings about positive change."