“When you speak another language or play music, your cognition process goes up by 20 percent,” said Larry Aitken, Endowed Chair of American Indian Studies at Itasca Community College (ICC) and Tribal Historian for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.
Aitken conducted the pipe ceremony preceding the 2013 Itasca Region Native American Language Quiz Bowl at ICC on Friday, March 8, of which he was also a judge. The Quiz Bowl has been an annual event at the college since 1992, and has gathered state-wide recognition amongst various tribal schools for the way it challenges students on knowledge that isn’t commonly known in the general population, but which is of great relevance and importance to Native American culture. About half of the questions posed are on the Ojibwe language, and the other half are on history and culture.
The bowl consisted of 15 teams from 12 different high schools: Greenway-Nashwauk-Keewatin, Grand Rapids, Circle of Life, Bug O Nay Ge Shig, Cass Lake, Northland/Remer, International Falls, Deer River, Fond du Lac, Detroit Lakes, Cloquet, and Red Lake. The one high school exception was a fifth grade student from Northland/Remer, Logan Monroe. To help cheer him on, Monroe’s entire fifth grade class attended the knowledge bowl as a field trip.
Throughout the bowl, Monroe held a certain celebrity status, not just because of how young he is, but because of how good he is. Many of the contestants at the bowl have a general knowledge of the Ojibwe language, mostly having to do with recognition of terms, but Monroe is nearly fluent in the language, which he only began studying three years ago.
“So many people are forgetting [the language] that I want to keep it going, for my children and for their’s,” said Monroe.
He has also begun learning how to drum and sing.
Monroe’s reasoning for participating in the bowl were echoed by Aitken during the introductions following the pipe ceremony, explaining how the event was one where “everyone gathers together in good will. Some will win, some will lose, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you play the game and that you’re using your language, studying your culture, and knowing who you are as a Native person. That’s what’s most important.”
Many participants at the bowl were not of Native American descent, though that wasn’t of particular importance. For the past two decades of the Quiz Bowl, a primary purpose has been to be a venue that promotes knowledge and energizes interest in American Indian culture. And to do that, it doesn’t hardly matter what your specific heritage is.
“Even though some aren’t Native, it’s still awesome that they’re a part of this team, learning the language,” said Grand Rapids High School team captain Breana Warrington.
For some teams, though, it’s the spirit of competition which is a prime mover of the bowl. Following their landslide victory in the first round, Ryan Councillor, team captain from International Falls, said that they were happy to get the “first-round jitters” out of the way, and felt good about their chances for the rest of the day. Councillor and the rest of his team have competed in similar bowls in the past, and referred to his group as the “dominating team” from their school. To prepare for the bowl, they spend a lot of time having mock-quiz contests, and work on words they’re less familiar with by studying note cards.
At the end of the day, International Falls finished in first place, followed by Northland/Remer in second, and Grand Rapids in third. Northland/Remer also received the Sportsmanship Award.