The Wabanaki language is taught as early as preschool to students on Indian Island.
Now, that learning continues with the hope it will inspire high school students to go on to college.
Joy Hollowell has more on that in part two of her special report, College and Culture.
Once a week, Orono high school sophomores Sienna Dana and Claudia Cummings head to a higher institute of learning just down the road.
They and other OHS students sit side by side with UMaine students, learning the Wabanaki language.
“At first I thought it was kind of intimidating,” said Cummings. “I thought they were going to ask us questions and I couldn’t answer. But it’s really easy, I think, and it was easy to adjust.”
“We have a lot of non-natives in there that ask questions,” says Dana,” a lot. And we don’t mind it.”
“It’s good that they’re trying to understand instead of just assuming,” adds Cummings.
Last year, the schools worked together to offer a Wabanaki level one course. It’s back by popular demand, along with a new level two class.
“This isn’t a special class just for high schoolers,” says Peter Buehner, school counselor at Orono High School. “They’re going to the University of Maine and taking an actual college course, and succeeding. And what a great way for them to get their feet wet with the university experience.”
Buehner worked with the university to extend the Native American Tuition Waiver program to high schoolers taking the college course. The college also allowed freshmen and sophomores to enroll. The courses are usually restricted to juniors and seniors.
“We learned it a little bit in middle school” says Shayne Dow, a sophomore at OHS. “But it just felt incomplete, I wanted to learn more. I also wanted to keep the language alive and stuff and possibly teach it myself.”
Roger Paul teaches the Wabanaki language course. He also taught it to many of these students when they attended Indian Island school. Paul calls this class a complete turnaround from what he witnessed growing up.
“A lot of times parents, in order for their children to succeed, would not teach them the indigenous language,” says Paul. “They wanted them to learn English because it it was found out that they were native, the opportunities and doors would close for them. And that actually happened in places like Houlton, and right here in Old Town and where I grew up , Indian Township.”
Catherine Chavaree sees the advantages to having high school students take the course with her.
“I wish I had the same opportunities,” says Chavaree. “I think it would encourage, like if they take a class here at the university, then it might encourage them to come here.”
Haley Francis is already ahead of the curve. The Orono high senior is interning with UMaine and plans to major in wildlife ecology when she attends in the fall.
“Just having the background of schooling and the things that I’m doing definitely gives me that boost in life,” says Francis. “I’ll be able to support myself in life rather than struggle.”
“Some of these students we already know are going to the university,” says Buehner. “There’s some who may never go to college. The idea is to change their minds, is to say- well, wait a minute, maybe this college thing can work for me.’ That would be a great bonus for us.”
Roger Paul says other high schools have expressed interested in sending their students to UMaine for the Wabanaki language course.