Jaeden King on the tribal land where she grew up. “It’s where my mom grew up and her mom and my grandma’s mom.” Photo courtesy of Jaeden King

Language keeper
Jaeden King wants to preserve the Ojibwe language by bringing it to schools in her community

Growing up on Mille Lacs tribal land, Jaeden King spent a lot of time with her grandmother. “She was always speaking Ojibwe,” King recalls.

In addition to listening and learning, King, who graduated from Onamia High School, took two years of post-secondary Ojibwe classes at Bemidji State University. Now in her fourth year at the University of Minnesota, she is double majoring in American Indian Studies and the Ojibwe language in the College of Liberal Arts.

King says she originally planned to study business. While doing an internship at Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures, her boss, an attorney and U of M graduate, encouraged her to consider the American Indian Studies program. “He did American Indian Studies as an undergraduate. He told me to do something I’m passionate about,” she says.

At her high school graduation party, King’s grandmother encouraged her to continue studying the Ojibwe language. “She said I was going to be a language keeper and that I’m not going to let the language die. She made me feel like it was the thing to do,” King says.

The Tobin and Susan Jones Scholarship and others have made it possible for King to pursue those passions. Funded with IRA distributions and an estate gift, the scholarship is directed toward undergraduate students attending the University of Minnesota Twin Cities who are enrolled or eligible for enrollment in a federally recognized tribe.

“My grandmother said, when she was my age, college wasn’t possible. It was so expensive. It’s not something people on the reservation did,” she says. “In high school, I spent a lot of time working, studying, and volunteering. It means a lot to me that someone wanted to give me a scholarship for my hard work.”

After college, King, a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and a descendant of the Red Lake Nation, plans to return to Mille Lacs. “I have a lot of hopes and dreams for the language in my home,” she says.

She would like to open an Ojibwe immersion day care center and write children’s books in Ojibwe. She also wants to get the language into the Onamia and Hinckley schools and open an Ojibwe immersion school in Minnesota like Waadookodaading in Hayward, Wisconsin.

“Because the Ojibwe language is an endangered language,” she says, “it’s really important for my people to work on bringing it back to life.”

Support the Ojibwe Language Program in the Department of American Indian Studies in the College of Liberal Arts.

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