Language is an essential part of preserving the ancient ties to heritage and culture. And with the native language of the Ojibwe people starting to fade, Chris Gordon has made the preservation of his family's language part of his life's mission.
Gordon is the first teacher in the state of Michigan to get a K-12 Foreign Language-Native teaching endorsement. He teaches Anishinaabemowin (pronounced a-NISH NAH-BEM-when), the native language of the Ojibwe people, at the Joseph K. Lumsden Bahweting Anishnabe School in Sault Ste. Marie.
Gordon joined Stateside to talk about his journey as a child who didn't want to speak the language to teaching it in a classroom.
Gordon describes his heritage as a "mixed heritage" with French and other European roots, but most of all, he identifies with his Anishinaabe bloodlines. According to Gordon, Anishinaabe people are also referred to as the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the Bay Mills Indian Community and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.
To Gordon, the variety of backgrounds in the area tells a lot about the history of the Upper Peninsula.
"As our city is approaching our 350th anniversary of its founding, it really reminds us of the amount of impact and long-standing impact of colonialism here in Sault Ste. Marie," Gordon said.
The last speaker of the language of Anishinaabemowin in his family was his great-grandfather who died 10 years before Gordon was born.
Gordon credits his grandmother for working to keep the family's Anishinaabe heritage alive.
"It really was our ancestors that come back and say to us, in their own ways, that the circle has to get reconnected," Gordon said. "We need someone to bring this up, to keep it going, to pass it on. And for whatever reason, that's what happened to me."
Gordon attend the University of Michigan where he played for the school's hockey team. It was during his time in Ann Arbor that his family heritage started to take hold with him on a personal level and started him on the path to learn the language and teach it to the next generation.
Listen to the full interview to learn how Gordon's school had to fight to get certified and to hear him speak the language of Anishinaabemowin.
Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Michigan Radio originally aired this story on April 11, 2017.