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Indigenous Language Summer Institute provides holistic education opportunities

Students at the Indigenous Language Summer Institute have spent the last few weeks learning about Indigenous history, culture and connections to the Mnisóta (Minnesota) landbase. Students in grades 4 through 12 focused on basic and intermediate language proficiency in Dakota and Ojibwe language classes, using those lessons to participate in traditional activities.

“The students are getting to experience what a holistic education looks like where the topics and themes aren’t compartmentalized. Students are learning science, math, reading comprehension and public speaking all through one language course,” Ethan Neerdaels, the coordinator of American Indian Education, said. 

While learning about the norms and protocols that are family and tribe based, students also learn about all of the core subjects through one course. Program participants took a boating trip to learn about the Mississippi River, visited a wolf sanctuary, constructed teepees outside of Osseo Middle School, picked sage and sweetgrass in a medicine garden and braided it, visited the Hoċokata Ti cultural center in Shakopee, played wooden stick lacrosse, made drums out of elk skin and created bead work.

“This year's indigenous language summer institute has been a crucial step in centering the indigenous voices within our district and acknowledging and understanding the responsibilities we have to our American Indian students,” Neerdaels said. 

Elders and community leaders contributed to help make this program successful. Members of the community also provided the students with a traditional feast, which included bear/deer meatballs, Ho-Chunk corn soup, Indian Frybread and wózapi (chokecherry pudding). Students also learned about protocols around feasts and food sovereignty initiatives. 

“It has been lovely to see our students' families, community members and staff bringing our ways back to the center for the children to be able to blossom into their full selves,” Neerdaels said.

Many tribal nations were represented in this program, each providing diversity in culture, allowing the students to learn from each other. There are over 80 tribal nations represented in Osseo Area Schools. To learn more about the district American Indian Education program, visit the district website