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Unusual UROP Launches Publishing Adventure

December 9, 2014

Faculty member and student create children's book

Randi Omdahl, a junior art education major and American Indian studies minor, and Erik Redix, UMD assistant professor of American Indian Studies, have teamed up in an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Project (UROP) to illustrate and write a children's book about a remarkable woman, Aazhaweyaa, who lived over 180 years ago. 

The book, Aazhaweyaa (pronounced AHZH-ah-WAY-yah), takes its title from the main character's name. Redix called the story "intriguing and liberating." As a young woman, Aazhaweyaa had powerful dreams about becoming a warrior, a role reserved for Ojibwe men. Her dreams were so strong, the elders permitted her to go into a battle. Born in 1830, Aazhaweyaa had great success on the battlefield during a time when tensions ran high between the Ojibwe and Dakotas due to the scarcity of wild rice, the region’s livelihood. Aazhaweyaa proved to be such a strong warrior, she earned respect and honor. 

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Supporting Ojibwe Language Immersion
Redix and Omdahl met when Omdahl signed up to take an Ojibwe language class. Redix had written the text in Ojibwe for children who are learning the Ojibwe language, especially the students in the growing regional Ojibwe language immersion programs. “This book fulfills a need; it's not just a UROP research project," Redix said. "We don't have a lot of curriculum material written in Ojibwe, so this project is valuable and can offer something to the community as a whole.” UMD's Brian McInnes, assistant professor in the Department of Education assisted with the Ojibwe text.

As the Ojibwe language class progressed, Redix learned that Omdahl possessed the perfect combination of artistic ability and an Ojibwe language background to assist in the project.

Researching for the Illustrations
Omdahl said Aazhaweyaa’s story of stepping out of gender roles and fighting alongside men is inspiring. “When I was presented the opportunity, I didn’t give it a second thought," Omdahl said. "This project was perfect for me.”  

Omdahl's historical research led her to the Tweed Museum of Art American Indian collections. Omdahl needed to see Ojibwe art and paintings from over a century ago to give her work authenticity. She discovered that the beadwork from the 1800s was geometric in form, unlike the flower patterns seen in the 1900s. The book will contain 26 of Omdahl’s illustrations.

Inspired by Ojibwe History
The collaborators share an Ojibwe heritage. Omdahl is from the White Earth Band of Ojibwe in northwestern Minnesota, and Redix is from the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe in Wisconsin. 

The story in the children's book, Aazhaweyaa, is also told in a history book written by Redix, The Murder of Joe White: Ojibwe Leadership and Colonialism in Wisconsin. It illuminates the journey of survival of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe in the area of Rice Lake, Wisconsin.  

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