January 10, 2013

Preserving Ojibwe hymns

Preserving Ojibwe hymns means more than religious devotion

By Dan GundersonMusic is a time honored part of worship in most religions. For many Ojibwe people in northern Minnesota, hymns are much more than an expression of religious devotion. They represent a unique piece of Ojibwe culture tribal that members are trying to preserve.

White Earth Tribal Chair Erma Vizenor, one of the singers at the service, said it's critical to keep the Ojibwe language alive.

"This is one way we can keep it," she said. "We can use it, we can share it, we can build community with it."

Vizenor grew up with Ojibwe hymn singing and traditional spiritual practices. She remembers neighbors gathering in her grandparents' tiny two-room home to sing, and her grandparents explaining traditional ceremonies.

Although Christian clergy tried to end traditional Indian spiritual practices, Vizenor said, the native-language hymns the church brought the reservation have become part of the complex Ojibwe culture.
Below:  "Parishioners gather for a service at St. Columba Episcopal Church in White Earth, Minn. on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013." (MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson)

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