Bemidji State professor earns Guggenheim Fellowship

BEMIDJI, Minn. – Bemidji State University Associate Professor of Ojibwe Anton Treuer has been awarded a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation to continue his work to develop the first grammar manual of the Ojibwe language. Treuer is thought to be the first Bemidji State faculty member to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship in the 83-year history of the Fellowships.

“This is an exciting and important development,” Treuer said. “There are no grammar books for the Ojibwe language. Early missionaries did some brief sketches, 30-40 pages, but there are no pedagogical manuals for us to teach from. This is something we must have if we’re going to develop things like immersion programs to preserve and teach the language. All languages that are alive have these things.”

The Guggenheim Fellowship will help fund release time from Treuer’s teaching assignments at Bemidji State to allow him the freedom to pursue the intense field study required by this project.

“One of the struggles in a project like this, for other languages when a writer wants to put together a grammar book, they will read other grammar books, compile their information, contact a designer and have a book,” Treuer said. “Our grammar books are people. I need to talk to a lot of people, and that’s a lot of work and time. And I can’t talk to just one person – even locally, there are four different dialects, and it’s important that they’re all captured and represented.”

The timing of the Guggenheim Fellowship also was critical for Treuer’s work, as the aging population of persons fluent in Ojibwe is seeing the number of native speakers slowly diminish.

“Most of the speakers of Ojibwe are very old, 70 years old or above,” he said. “In some areas you find speakers who are in their 50s or 60s, but if we waited 10 or 20 years to do this many of the people I would need to speak with would be gone. I’ve been doing transcription and translation work for 15 years now, and even in that time 35 of the people I have worked with have died.”

Treuer is hopeful that his efforts can help the Ojibwe language experience some of the same sort of renaissance as Mauri, which once had literacy rates of around seven percent and is now the official language of New Zealand.

“I am hopeful about the language and about the impact this project could have on the language,” Treuer said. “I have seen what has happened with grassroots efforts to save other languages and don’t know why it couldn’t happen with Ojibwe, too.”

Guggenheim Fellows are appointed on the basis of stellar achievement and exceptional promise for continued accomplishment. One of the hallmarks of the Guggenheim Fellowship program is the diversity of its Fellows, not only in their fields of endeavor but in their geographic location and ages.

Since its establishment in 1925 the Guggenheim Foundation has granted more than $265 million in Fellowships to almost 16,500 individuals. Scores of Nobel, Pulitzer, and other prize winners grace the roll of Fellows, including Ansel Adams, W. H. Auden, Aaron Copland, Martha Graham, Langston Hughes, Henry Kissinger, Vladimir Nabokov, Isamu Noguchi, Linus Pauling, Philip Roth, Paul Samuelson, Wendy Wasserstein, Derek Walcott, James Watson and Eudora Welty.

In a time of decreased funding for individuals in the arts, humanities, and sciences, the Guggenheim Fellowship program has assumed a greatly increased importance. Thanks to the continued and ever more generous donations of friends and former Fellows, the Foundation has been able to increase each year both the number of awards and the average amount of its grants.

Treuer’s work will also be supported by grants from the American Philosophical Society and the Bush Leadership Foundation.

2008 Guggenheim Fellowship Quick Facts
• Treuer was one of 191 Fellows from the U.S. and Canada out of 2,615 total applicants.
• The 191 Fellows for 2008 represent 75 disciplines and 81 different academic institutions.
• Of the 191 Fellows for 2008, Treuer is one of only three to be recognized for work in the field of linguistics.
• Treuer is one of five 2008 Fellows from the state of Minnesota. The others are University of Minnesota professors Douglas Arnold (mathematics), Kathryn Sikkink (political science) and Robin Sryker (sociology) and Carlyle Brown, a playwright from Minneapolis.

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