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Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo of Earl Otchingwanigan in the woods
Photo by James P. Leary

Earl Otchingwanigan
2007 awardee, St. Crystal Falls (Iron County), Ojibwe culture specialist and tradition bearer

Earl Nyholm Otchingwanigan is a rich and extensive resource of traditional knowledge, which he learned from early childhood from his parents and elders. Born in 1937 of Swedish and Ojibwe parents, he is an enrolled member of the Keweenaw Bay Reservation.

As a distinguished teacher and scholar Earl earned a bachelor's degree of fine art from the Layton School of Design, was an instructor of Ojibwe language for 30 years at Bemidji State University, co-authored the indispensable Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe, authored other published pieces on Ojibwe culture, and has served as translator, exhibition judge, and museum curatorial consultant.

Earl is an equally remarkable traditional artist. He is a gifted storyteller, performing Ojibwe tales in English and Ojibwe with the same talent for details as his relatives and elders told them, with subtle yet clear preoccupation with moral issues, and with measured but animated delivery typical of old-time Ojibwe raconteurs. He also has an extensive repertoire of contemporary Ojibwe, "up north," and "Yooper" jokes and stories. As a teenager, Earl also learned to make wigwams and canoes, about which a documentary, Earl's Canoe, was made by Tom Vennum in 1999.

With concern for the future and always the educator, Earl has generously shared his traditional knowledge with Ojibwe youth and the general public through storytelling events, workshops, lectures, folklife festivals, exhibitions, publications, and film screenings.

Earl Nyholm Otchingwanigan is honored with a 2007 Michigan Heritage Award as a respected, widely recognized bearer of traditional Ojibwe knowledge and a distinguished scholar and generous educator of Ojibwe culture and history.

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