BEMIDJI - A new scholarship at Bemidji State University could pave the way to a new major there.

The Bezhigoogahbow Ojibwemowin Scholarship is named after Larry P. Aitken, a trailblazing American Indian educator who passed away in October 2018, and it will pay one student $1,000 each year while they study the Ojibwe language, “follow”ing them as they advance through the university. Money for the new scholarship comes from an anonymous $26,000 donation to the school’s nonprofit fundraising arm that was finalized on Friday.

“The Ojibwe language is so crucial to the culture, to everything that we do in our lifeways,” said Bill Blackwell, Jr., who heads the university’s American Indian Resource Center. “They really felt like this was their contribution to making sure that continues at BSU....We’re the first Ojibwe language program, collegiately, in the world. We were the first ones to do it. And so their idea was how do we support that?”

BSU offers a minor in Ojibwemowin, and the scholarship, the thinking goes, could attract more students to that program and lay the groundwork to turn it into a full-fledged major course of study. Blackwell said the scholarship is a “huge” stepping stone toward that goal.

“It’s going to provide a student with some financial support to make sure that they go out and be a good student, learn more about the language, and hopefully pass that on to more people,” Blackwell said.