"We work very hard on the creation of a safe place where our languages can be heard and taught and cherished."

Laurie Harper former executive director, Wicoie Nandagikendan immersion preschools

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Wicoie Nandagikendan: Ojibwe-Language Immersion Preschools

Minneapolis, Minnesota

imgServing American Indian families and toddlers from Minnesota’s seven Ojibwe (also called Chippewa or Anishinaabe) reservations and four Dakota Sioux communities, Wicoie Nandagikendan is a multi-site preschool immersion program in Minneapolis providing early childhood daycare and instruction in Ojibwe and Dakota. Housed by the nonprofit Alliance of Early Childhood Professionals, the language program began in 2006 with a federal grant from the Administration for Native Americans, part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.

With only a handful of first-language elderly Dakota speakers still living in the state of Minnesota, and perhaps 100 first-language Ojibwe speakers statewide, Wicoie Nandagikendan’s language immersion classrooms are offering an invaluable educational opportunity to families from Minnesota’s eleven Indian reservations and communities who now live in the state’s largest urban setting.

Today the program runs four preschool immersion classrooms in downtown Minneapolis, and partners with local educational institutions like Anishinaabe Academy, a Native American magnet school that is part of the Minneapolis public schools system, and the University of Minnesota’s Department of American Indian Studies Department, where fluent speakers offer college-level instruction in both the Dakota and Ojibwe languages. The university also provides crucial apprentice immersion teachers and offers a Dakota and Ojibwe Immersion Teacher Certificate program, where the majority of Wicoie Nandagikendan’s teachers have trained.

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Did You Know ...

Unlike most Native American communities in New England, where four hundred years of colonization led to languages disappearing a century ago, the Ojibwe do have some fluent speakers living in their communities, but the numbers of first-language elderly speakers are dwindling rapidly, and the majority live in remote communities in Canada.

Perhaps only 100 first-language Ojibwe language speakers are still living in Minnesota, making the success of immersion programs like Wicoie Nandagikendan and Nigaane even more critical to extending the life of this ancient language.

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