New podcast from Manitoulin Island helps teach the Anishnaabemowin language

A local Wikwemikong group on Manitoulin Island has launched a new podcast to help foster and preserve the Anishnaabemowin language.

the Nawewin Gamik 49er Project features seven episodes with stories and music in the language.

Each episode includes six stories, ranging from comedy to supernatural and dramatic, and a song.

Tracy Cleland from Wikwemikong said she volunteered with the Namewin Gamik group to help teach the language to her children.

“When I was growing up, the language was very much alive,” she said. “I mean, it’s still the case today, but it’s getting less and less every year.”

So far the feedback has been very good.-Tracy Cleland

Cleland has five children and says her eldest never learned to speak Anishnaabemowin. But she has two-year-old twins who understand the language.

She said the podcast is a good way for learners to immerse themselves in the language anytime.

“The feedback so far has been very, very good,” Cleland said. “And now there’s, you know, a good six or seven hours of language that they can listen to every day for speakers or new learners.”

The Nawewin Gamik 49er project is a community effort. Dolly Peltier, left, and her daughter Angel Peltier rented their home for the recordings. Sally Recollet and Jeff Eshkawkogan were both associate producers and actors on the project. (Submitted by Alanis King)

The podcast’s namesake comes from the Nawewin Gamik group, made up of elders who are fluent in Anishnaabemowin and parents of young children who wanted to preserve the language for future generations.

Alanis King, the podcast’s artistic producer, said Wikwemikong First Nation has 8,000 members, but only 500 are fluent in Anishnaabemowin.

King said the podcast was born out of necessity, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She comes from a theater background, but decided a podcast would showcase the deep oral tradition of her community, while keeping the most vulnerable elders socially distanced while they recorded the episodes.

“We are known for our oral tradition, the transmission of stories, ceremonies and traditional knowledge across millennia through time,” King said. “So to me, it seemed like a perfect medium.”

It was also an advantage that a podcast series was cheaper to produce than a theater production or a video series.

“If we didn’t have to produce something for television or film, we could significantly reduce overhead while still delivering a quality project that you listen to,” King said.

To produce the project, the group obtained funding from the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.

King said Nawewin Gamik planned to produce more episodes. The end goal, she said, is to have 365 stories so listeners have one for every day of the year.