Ojibwe quiz bowl tests Indian knowledge

by Nathan Warner
Contributing writer

Have you ever wondered what “Minnetonka” means? Judge and moderator Dr. Rick Gresczyk asked Ojibwe and Dakota middle school and high school students if they knew what the Dakota word meant before giving the answer “great water” at the third annual Ojibwe and Dakota Quiz Bowl tournament that commenced April 14 at Lincoln Elementary School in Elk River. Students from across the Elk River Area School District attended under the direction of their mentor and teacher, specialist Debra Blair.

Dr. Rick Gresczyk (left) quizzes American Indian language students on Ojibwe and Dakota words while teacher Debra Blair (in white) keeps time. Photo by Nathan Warner

Elders present at the opening ceremony were Professor Dan Jones, who teaches Ojibwe language at Fond du Lac Tribal Community College, Dr. Rick Gresczyk, an Ojibwe language instructor at Augsburg College, and Dave Larson, who is a Dakota elder from Lower Sioux. Also attending was David Isham of Elk River, who serves as the specialist of American Indian Programs with the Systems Office of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

Larson addressed students before commencing the quiz. “People still think all there is to American Indians is conflict,” he said, pointing to the other elders. “Just look at us — we’re from different tribes, but we’re getting along just fine, so don’t believe people when they say things like that.” He added that there was a real need for American Indian education opportunities like the Elk River Area School District program to help provide guidance and support to American Indian children, many of whom are adrift and struggling with depression, he said.

Professors Rick Gresczyk and Dan Jones served as judges and moderators for the quiz bowl that saw nearly 30 students in friendly competition for the winning title. Several Dakota place names in Minnesota were in the quiz, including Anoka, which means “on both sides,” referring to the location on the Rum River, and Wayzata, which means “spirit of the north.”

Jones has broad experience with language quiz bowls, having been involved with them for many years. “Debra Blair runs this district-wide quiz bowl,” he said, “which is small compared to the state meet held every year in May at the Fond du Lac Tribal Community College and hosts 24–30 teams from across the state.” He added that there are even quiz bowl competitions starting up in colleges for students who want to continue their Ojibwe and Dakota language education.

The first-place winners (or “Rockers”) Saturday were team captain Shane Killian and Chanz St. Vincent from Rogers Middle School, John Garrow of Salk Middle School and Ryan Baxter from Elk River High School. Second-place winners were team captain Blake La Valle, Devon Burns and Jordan Dauphinais from VandenBerge Middle School. Third-place winners were Stormy St. Vincent of Rogers High School and Bailey Alberts, Jade Fredin and team captain Nicole Nawrocki from Salk Middle School.

Donors to the quiz bowl included Blue Egg Bakery of Elk River, Coborn’s of Elk River, Cub Foods of Elk River, Cub Foods of Rogers, Walmart of Elk River, SuperTarget of Otsego, SuperTarget of Rogers, Rogers 18 Theater, Marcus Cinema of Elk River, Zimmerman Bowl, Ramsey Super Bowl, Pizza Ranch, R&D Sales of Elk River for tournament T-shirts, Silver Bell Trophies of Zimmerman for tournament trophies, and Nate Wattenhoeffer of Kings Ranch in Ramsey.

Blair, coordinator of the American Indian Education Program in Elk River, administered the competition. She teaches Ojibwe and Dakota language and culture across 17 schools in the district with 198 K–12 students.

She hopes more American Indian students and their families will become aware of the event and the learning opportunities available in the district offered through her office at Lincoln Elementary.

To contact Blair about opportunities in your area call 763-241-3400, ext. 5160.