Kiwenz Language Camp 2015 Transitions to Fond du Lac Reservation Administration

By Janis Fairbanks
Photo by Ivy Vainio
News From Indian Country

This year’s Kiwenz Language Camp marked the seventh year of the annual event, started in 2009 as a grassroots effort by storyteller/writer Jim and Pat Northrup, Ojibwa language teacher Rick Gresczyk, with Randy Gresczyk, Dr. Arne Vanio, and his wife, Ivy, and James Northrup III becoming active in the early camp years to form the corps planning group for the camp. This year’s camp ran June 17 - 21 at Kiwenz Campgrounds on the Fond du Lac Reservation.

On January 12, 2015, Fond du Lac Reservation Anishinaabemowin Coordinator, Dr. Janis A. Fairbanks,  an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, came on board to create a reservation wide community based language program. Fairbanks hails from Sawyer district, where the camp takes place. Shortly after her arrival, she got a message from Dr. Gresczyk that the Northrup’s and he had a meeting and wanted Fairbanks to take over running the camp. Reluctant at first, Fairbanks relented after being informed of Jim Northrup’s health issues and Pat’s desire to step back from planning the camp to focus on Jim’s needs.

With the camp’s history of drawing a crowd of language learners, artists, and teachers, Fairbanks commented that the camp actually was an established feature of the newly forming Fond du Lac Ojibwa Language Program, with future events geared to attract even more of the Fond du Lac population the program is mandated to serve. The Northrup’s and Rick Gresczyk asked that not much be changed during the transition year, and indeed with the short planning timeline, their request was easily honored.

Still, recognizing a need to document the success of the camp, Fairbanks designed and implemented a few tracking methods. For instance, we know that at last count, there were 447 registered attendees, and that the count was actually higher, since the artists and their helpers did not register, and occasional visitors did not always register.  We know the number of people taking advantage of each of the free meals provided Thursday through Sunday during camp, as meals served were counted in an effort to better plan for next year’s meal service. We know that 25% of those attending filled out overall camp evaluation forms, and that the feedback was tremendously positive. “This is what I would like to see next year’s Fond du Lac Enrollee’s Day look like,” said Jeff Savage, Director of the FDL Museum.

Among the craft activities available to attendees were moccasin making, pipestone carving, birch bark basket making, parfleche medicine pouch and wallet, flute making and rice knockers.

We know that attendance was down this year, and that there were several other events taking place at the same time, such as two events at the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, Grandma’s Marathon in neighboring Duluth, a powwow in nearby Hinckley, and ceremonies going on that same weekend. The events made finding a room in the local hotels very difficult, but campers at the campground made themselves comfortable and enjoyed the camp.

With horseshoe contests, canoe races, a plant walk, and all of the cultural workshops in session, attendees had an array of activities to choose from. Other activities included a puppet show (two performances by 13 Moons group using Ojibwa language), a talent show, a medicine plant teaching, and a mini-powwow.

On the wish list for future camps, youth would like to see more athletic activities for kids of all ages, “so the children would be safe and keep out of trouble,” said Julia Eggert, age 15, and Summer Youth Assistant to Fairbanks. A discussion with some of the adults yielded suggestions for swimming races, foot races, and a treasure hunt for youth at future camps. All activities would be conducted in the Ojibwa language, in keeping with the language camp theme.