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Trent Professor Rhonda L. Paulsen Publishes New Book to Revitalize Indigenous Languages

'Spirit of the Island: Manitoulin's People' discusses first-person histories on Manitoulin Island in both English and Ojibway

Rhonda L. Paulsen, professor of Indigenous Studies at Trent University, is about to publish a new book that will be an important contribution to Ojibway culture and literature, entitled Spirit of the Island: Manitoulin’s People.

The book is a labour of love for Prof. Paulsen, who lived on Manitoulin Island for several years. Her hope for Spirit of the Island is that the book will help to revitalize the study of indigenous languages in Canada, and change the context through which the general public views and understands indigenous cultures.

“Manitoulin Island is an excellent place to discover the diversity of indigenous languages – it’s a microcosm of all of the issues that have affected Aboriginal groups in Canada, including forced relocation, the uprooting of existing cultures and languages, and the resilience and strength needed to survive,” said Prof. Paulsen. “It inspires me endlessly.”

The book consists of first-person accounts of life by indigenous people on Manitoulin Island, followed by information from Prof. Paulsen providing an academic context for those accounts. Each contribution and academic analysis is printed in both English and Ojibway. This is key, Prof. Paulsen said, as printed material in Ojibway and other indigenous languages is hard to find. She credits her translators, Shirley I. Williams-Pheasant, an elder who is part of Trent’s Indigenous Studies program, and Isadore Toulouse, as well as Ningwakwe Learning Press, for helping her bring the book to life, and hopes that it will be used by both academics and the general public as a resource to learn Ojibway.

The book’s first-person accounts cover a variety of topics, from the residential school system to life under the Indian Act, appreciating the beauties of Manitoulin Island, taking walks of healing and self-discovery, and returning home. This balance of topics is very important, Prof. Paulsen feels, because many people don’t understand the full range of lived indigenous experience, from the tragic to the beautiful. “I want to reframe the discussion around Aboriginal people in Canada so that the positive parts are given as much weight as the negative ones,” she said.

Spirit of the Island also represents an important development in the Indigenous Studies program, a discipline in which Trent is a leader. The book will be required reading for the Introduction to Indigenous Studies course offered to first-year students. Prof. Paulsen plans to celebrate the launch of her book by doing a reading on the M.S. CHI-CHeemaun, the ferry that connects Manitoulin Island to Tobermory.

Prof. Paulsen wishes to express her gratitude to the Symons Trust Fund for Canadian Studies for its support during the creation of the book.

Posted on Thursday, June 19, 2014.

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