ONAMIA — The Mille Lacs Band has partnered with the Minnesota Historical Society Press to publish three new monolingual Ojibwe books, which are now available for pre-order.

According to a news release, it is estimated fewer than 500 people in the United States speak the Ojibwe language. The books are a way to deepen the resources available to advance the language.

MHS Press has published bilingual books in Ojibwe and English before, but monolingual Ojibwe publication marks a new direction. Earlier this year MHS acquired four previously published monolingual Ojibwe books to add to their titles. The Mille Lacs Band will be the first to develop new monolingual material for first release and publication with MHS Press.

Within the Mille Lacs Band community only 25 elders are fluent first speakers. This project comes at a critical time in the effort to preserve their knowledge for many generations to come.

“At Mille Lacs, our culture, ceremonies, and traditions that have sustained us since time immemorial are dependent on the continuation of our language,” Melanie Benjamin, chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, stated. “If we lose our language, we risk losing our identity as Anishinaabe. We need to do everything we can to keep that from happening. This project is an important part of our efforts.”

To develop the content for these books, Mille Lacs elders are participating in content development sessions during which first speakers of the language are paired with transcribers who record the stories of the elders, which include both personal, non-fiction stories based on past experiences, as well as creative fiction.

“Every language embodies the unique worldview of a people,” Baabiitaw Boyd, commissioner of administration for the Band, stated. “Keeping Ojibwe a living language reinforces the sovereign status of the Mille Lacs Band — it is a defining and distinctive feature of what it means to be an Ojibwe nation.”

The Band has already planned to do three more content sessions, and as the relationship with the MHS Press and the work of the language team deepens, the Mille Lacs Band expects to continue developing books for years to come.

The Mille Lacs Reservation in east central Minnesota is the perpetual home of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. The Band supports its members with a variety of services for economic, social and cultural advancement, including health services, early childhood and youth centers, and economic development.