For five decades, Barbara Nolan has dedicated her life to the preservation of the Anishnaabemowin, and she was recently recognized for her efforts by the City of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Nolan, a native of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, received the town’s Medal of Merit, its highest honor given to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the community.

“I was surprised by this and feel so honored,” Nolan said.

“Since 1972, I have been involved with language anywhere, anytime, and anyhow.”

LISTEN to Barbara Nolan speaks with CBC Radio North about its price:

North8:15 a.m.Anishinaabemowin Language Advocate Barbara Nolan Honored by Sault Ste Marie

The City of Sault Ste Marie has announced a new recipient for its Medal of Merit. Elder Barbara Nolan is recognized by the city for her leadership and contributions to the region. Nolan lives in Garden River First Nation and is best known as an advocate for Anishinaabemowin language revitalization. Jonathan reached out to Barbara this week to talk about the medal – and her work. He began by asking her how she learned she was honored. 8:15 a.m.

When Nolan was five, she and her sisters were sent to boarding school in Spanish, Ontario. She said they went home during the summer and for Christmas, which helped her stay in touch with the language and culture despite the school’s attempts to assimilate it.

While working as a child and family counselor for the Sault Ste. Marie, she said that the children of Garden River First Nation told her that they did not like learning French because it was not their language.

She was approached by a principal who wondered why the children were doing so poorly in the classroom and she shared what they told her. Nolan was asked to develop a curriculum for Anishinaabemowin.

The program was approved by the school board and Nolan began teaching until a certified language teacher was found.

Barbara Nolan recently received the Sault Ste. Medal of Merit of Mary. (Barbara Nolan/Facebook)

Nolan currently works at the Garden River First Nation Daycare, teaching the language to children. For the past five decades, she has taught at universities across the United States and locally in the Algoma District.

Nolan was nominated for the Medal of Merit by Karen Bell, a police officer with the Anishinabek Police Department. Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Christian Provenzano said a committee chooses the recipient by unanimous decision.

“We learn the importance of culture and it’s from leaders like Barbara, who persevered, who celebrated, who frankly kept their culture alive, kept their language alive, celebrated it, shared it and taught it,” Provenzano said.

Nolan’s daughter, Colleen, said her mother was a humble person and continued to teach because of her love for passing on the language.

“I think a lot of times parents are taught to say that you like or appreciate your kids and are proud of them,” she said.

“But a lot of times, as kids, we don’t say, ‘I’m proud of you, mum’ or ‘I’m proud of you, dad’.”

She said she was very proud of her mother’s accomplishments.