John D. Nichols

I left my redoubt at the Gryphon house in 1966 to study classical rhetoric and teach public speaking at the University of Illinois, but left after one year to look at language though another discipline, moving on to Harvard where I received a Ph.D. in linguistics concentrating on American Indian languages. My first research was on the Ojibwe (then usually called Chippewa) language of the Anishinaabe people as spoken in my home state of Minnesota. I studied with Naawakamigookwe “Middle of the Earth Lady”, Maude Kegg, an elder on the Mille Lacs reservation, was adopted by her family, given the Ojibwe name Biidaanakwad “Approaching Cloud”, and assigned Migizi “Bald Eagle” as nindoodem “my clan”. I’m still studying this language and learning, as I am instructed by Anishinaabe elders, how to honor my name.

I’ve taught anthropology, linguistics and American Indian/Canadian Native studies, the last including Ojibwe and Cree language, language planning, ethnohistory, oral literature, and art history, at several American and Canadian universities in Anishinaabe country, most recently at the University of Manitoba where I was University Distinguished Professor of Linguistics and the University of Minnesota from which I retired in 2015 as Professor of American Indian studies. I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the National Academy of Canada, for my work on American Indian languages, especially on Ojibwe (Chippewa), Cree, Oji-Cree, Ottawa, and Potawatomi, languages of the Algonquian family.

In retirement I continue working with speakers of the languages and in archives to document and describe the languages and oral traditions. I serve as editor of the Ojibwe People’s Dictionary, an on-line talking bilingual dictionary at the University of Minnesota, work on which has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.  I also serve as an occasional editor of two publication series, the Publications of the Algonquian Text Society and the Memoir Series of Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics.
In the spring of 2016, I was invited to lecture at Hamilton and Colgate on my work in the digital humanities and the documentation of the Ojibwe language. I was happy to find American Indian studies well-represented at both of these institutions in Haudenosaunee country and the digital humanities a focus of interest at Hamilton.
I’m traveling in retirement too. I’m writing this in Santa Fe on a break during a swing around national parks in the West and I’m off to Japan and Taiwan next fall.
I still trying to figure out how Algonquian languages work and how best to make what I have learned about them available to the indigenous communities and others outside the university.

Leave a Reply