Brendan Kishketon: Revitalizing Ojibwe and Giving Back Identity

Brendan Kishketon

Brendan Kishketon (PhD ‘09, linguistics), recipient of a 2021 College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Alumni of Notable Achievement Award, proves that Ojibwe is not just a language: it is a culture, a passion, and a way of life. Kishketon was welcomed as professor in the Department of American Indian Studies (AIS) in 2013. Since then, he has helped to revitalize an important part of Minnesota’s history through his Ojibwe language-based research, community engagement, and teaching.

“The Ojibwe language is an endangered language and we have been fighting really hard to keep it from dying,” explains Kishketon. “The research I do is part of our mission to keep our language alive and to pass it on to future generations."

After arriving at the University, Kishketon quickly became known for his revelatory work on language revitalization. His book, Oijbwe Discourse Markers, received praise and rave reviews from scholars and critics alike. Since 2009, Kishketon has been invited to speak about his research at a variety of academic institutions across the world, proving that it has been recognized and appreciated globally.

But Kishketon isn’t only a scholar. He is also a community-engaged thinker who puts great effort into connecting Indigenous communities, traditions, and languages with the University. In 2018, he helped to create the American Indian Summer Institute (AISI). This program connects Indigenous high school students with the University’s campus, facilities, and staff in order “to foster an early sense of comfortability on college campuses that will make the transition into higher education that much easier.”

In addition to encouraging young Indigenous students to continue their education, Kishketon puts in the work to make sure current University students have access to the Ojibwe language as well. The new Ojibwe immersion house, Ojibwewigamig, is a residential community that allows students to learn the language while also gaining lifelong friendships. With innovative programs such as Ojibwewigamig and the AISI Institute, Kishketon has created infrastructure that will serve the University community for years to come.

As a professor, Kishketon has a special knowledge of what students need to thrive. When he saw the need for a more intensive Ojibwe program, he helped to create the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Ojibwe. The courses for the degree dig deeper into Ojibwe, helping not only with “teaching our students a language, but [with] trying to give them back their identity as Anishinaabe people [as well],” says Kishketon.

“The hope is that we teach the Ojibwe language and all of its linguistic systems as a complete in-tact language rather than teaching an Ojibwe that is just Ojibwe words on top of English thoughts,” Kishketon continues. “This is no easy task, but the research and the creation of the BA in Ojibwe program here at the University of Minnesota has made incredible strides in reviving the language.”

Thanks to the efforts of Kishketon and his AIS colleagues, it is now easier than ever for the University to connect with Ojibwe communities and teach students their language and culture. Students who participate in the department’s groundbreaking courses gain the skills they need to carry on the Ojibwe language, ensuring that it is here to stay for future generations to appreciate, enjoy, and learn from.

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