With Indigenous language classes on hold, U of Winnipeg to launch new Ojibway radio drama

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The University of Winnipeg is launching a new radio drama, inspired by a desire to keep Indigenous language learning going during the COVID-19 pandemic — and by a hit TV show.

The new series, Aakoziiwigamig: An Ojibwe Radio Drama, will premiere on Wednesday, Jan. 13, on NCI radio. The episodes will also be available at University of Winnipeg's office of Indigenous engagement website, the university said in a Monday news release.

Lorena Fontaine, the University of Winnipeg's Indigenous academic lead, says the radio drama came from a desire to keep Ojibway language use flowing for students, after community classes through the U of W's Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre and Indigenous Languages of Manitoba were cancelled due to the pandemic. 

"I was concerned that students who were taking Indigenous language classes at the university now had nowhere to go and practise in the community speaking the language," said Fontaine, who has been working with NCI's general manager, David McLeod, on the series since its inception in the summer. 

The university is also working on an Indigenous language program, and Fontaine says she hopes the radio drama can be incorporated into the program and include students.

"We need more places to hear and practise the language," she said in the university's news release. 

"I can see this being an important component to our language program and we could get students in the production in the future."

After the initial launch, the 10-minute audio drama segments will air every second Wednesday until June 2021. Fontaine added that for people who don't speak Ojibway, there will be a teaching session before each episode to highlight key words and to increase listener engagement.

Patricia Ningewance, a leader in Ojibway teaching and translation in Canada, was brought on to write the script, and was inspired to set the series in a hospital by a hit TV show.

"She loves Grey's Anatomy and wanted to do something around a hospital setting," Fontaine said.

"Pat also thought a dialogue in a hospital would accommodate different dialects, because we have a number of Ojibway speakers with different dialects in Winnipeg."

The first episode has already been recorded via Zoom, thanks to help from Kent Davies and Brett Lougheed from the university's Oral History Centre.

The Zoom recording provided "a way to be with community without having to be together in person," said Fontaine.

"It feels good to be together listening to Ojibway."