20 Under 40: Winonah Ojanen (Gaagige Aanakwadikwe), 29, Duluth, member of Bad River Band of Ojibwe in Wisconsin

Ojibwe immersion teacher with Misaabekong Ojibwe Immersion Program.

Winonah Ojanen web.jpg
Winonah Ojanen (Gaagige Aanakwadikwe)

What do you do? (job, community involvement): I am an Ojibwe immersion teacher with the Misaabekong Ojibwe Immersion Program. I currently teach a second and third grade split. I also take part in creating Ojibwe Immersion curriculum for our program, especially focusing on science. My goal is to help create physics and astronomy curriculum for Ojibwe immersion schools, and my future plans are to pursue a master's degree in astrophysics.

What is important to you? My friends, family, dreams, love for the Ojibwe language and culture, and my passion for learning astronomy are all deeply important to me. They are the inspiration for my journey of intertwining Ojibwe, science and teaching.

There is a beautiful parallel between the world of science and Ojibwe culture. Discovering patterns in nature has always been present within the Ojibwe culture, and it contains a fascinating way of teaching respect and the interconnectedness of all things. I believe that bringing the Ojibwe cultural worldview into the sciences can help humanity solve problems that we are currently struggling with. It will also help the language and culture to grow, modernize and adapt to issues in the world today at a faster pace. The Ojibwe language is alive to the Anishinaabe; Anishinaabe people have always adapted, and the language has adapted as well. Like nibi (water), it transforms and changes states with us over time.

I think the modern message of living between two worlds is important: living the Anishinaabe way of life, and pursuing what we love within the modern world. The culture gives us strength and a unique viewpoint for guidance in our lives. I teach these methods to my students.

I focus on what they are good at, what they love, and what they dream about. I also teach them to remember who they are within the culture, their name, their strengths, and their roots to Gidakiiminaan (Mother Earth).


How do you spend your free time? Just as my career focuses around studying those two areas, I spend my free time learning about them as well.

I participate in Ojibwe cultural activities, and collaborate with elders and other Ojibwe language speakers to learn more traditional language and help create new words.

I also study physics and astronomy on my own time. I attend science-focused events in the greater Duluth area, and work on self-paced physics, math and astronomy curriculum at home.

I also enjoy reading books and practicing my beadwork.

From nominator: "I was seriously blown away entering her classroom and hearing no English whatsoever. Even when the kids had the choice to talk to me in English, they spoke in Ojibwemowin (Ojibwe Language). I would love to see a young language preservationist be recognized for her important work and bring attention to this program." — Moira Villiard

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