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Aaniindi wenjibaayan? College teams compete in Ojibwe language quiz bowl

Hannah Orie discusses a potential answer on Friday with teammate Brandon Quagon before pressing her buzzer during the Ojibwe Quiz Bowl at Leech Lake Tribal College. They were part of a team of four from BSU. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
Two teams compete against each other on Friday during the Ojibwe Quiz Bowl at Leech Lake Tribal College. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

CASS LAKE -- Two teams of Ojibwe language students huddled around their desks at Leech Lake Tribal College.

“Aaniindi wenjibaayan?” Moderator Jordyn Flaada asked, and the room fell silent for a brief moment as team members pondered the phrase’s English translation. The team from Red Lake Nation College buzzed in before the one from Bemidji State University.

“‘Where are you from’?” a tribal college student ventured. Flaada and Leona Wakonabo, a competition judge whose first language is Ojibwe, nodded in approval.

Point: Red Lake.

The Eagles and Beavers were squaring off at the tribal college’s annual Epiitendaagwak Ojibwemowin Quiz Bowl, which drew several other teams from schools across northern Minnesota and one from the University of Wisconsin, whose members Skyped in to compete.

Teams came up with names beyond their school’s mascot, too: Red Lake Nation College’s mascot is “Migizi” -- a bald eagle -- but the college’s two quiz bowl teams were “Gabe-giizhig” -- “all day” -- and “Endaso-giizhig” -- “every day.”

Each school entered a few four-person teams into a bracket, and competing teams were given Ojibwemowin phrases to translate into English and vice versa. Whichever team successfully translated a phrase first was awarded a point, and whichever team amassed five points first won their matchup. Organizers later stipulated that the team with the most points after 20 questions in a given round would be named the winner, as well.

Most of the quiz bowlers had only been studying the Ojibwe language for a semester or two, coordinator Nyleta Belgarde said. Others, who had been learning the language longer and were given grammatically tougher sentences to translate, were organized into a separate division.

But the quiz bowl wasn’t exclusively about competition, Belgarde said.

“It's to bring awareness. It gives students an opportunity to work on their Ojibwemowin skills, as well an opportunity for them to display those skills because there aren't a whole lot of situations right now, opportunities for them,” said Belgarde, who’s part of the Leech Lake college’s Ojibwe faculty. “But also to give them some acknowledgement for the work they're doing on the language.”

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

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