By Brett Larson Inaajimowin Editor
“I’ve been drawing pretty much my whole life, but I began to get more attentive about it in middle school,“ said Chase Sam, a tenth grader at Nay Ah Shing High School. “I taught myself to draw, and I’ve worked on it for years and years. My teachers would catch me drawing in their classes.“
Chase’s work has paid off. She has been asked by Rosetta Stone to submit illustrations for Ojibwe language learning materials the company is developing on behalf of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
“It all started around this time last year,“ said Chase. “I was invited to attend an Elders conference about publishing the Aanjibimaadizing books, and I got to observe the artists who illustrated the books — Jonathan Thunder, Steve Premo, and Wesley Ballinger.“
The Aanjibimaadizing books are three monolingual Ojibwe collections of stories told by Mille Lacs Band Elders and transcribed by language students from around the region.
Chase’s great grandmother, the late Panji Gahbow, was one of the Elders who told stories for the Aanjibimaadizing project, and Chase was able to listen in and draw some pictures to illustrate her stories. They weren’t used in the books, but word got around that there was a talented young artist in the making.
“Eventually word must have spread to Rosetta Stone,“ said Chase. “They emailed me last year to do an interview and take up some independent contractor work for them.“
Chase draws on her iPad primarily. “Most of what I do is digital, but I do want to learn to work with art materials,“ she said. “I want to draw for myself and my friends and family, but at the same time, I hope I can inspire other people to pursue what they love doing.“
Nay Ah Shing English teacher Blenda Hagberg has taught Chase and her sisters Ronni and Mia, who are now in college. “She’s a great student from a wonderful family. Talented, intelligent, fun, thoughtful, respectful — great to have in class.“
Chase says her sisters are her role models, and she is planning to follow their footsteps to college.
“College has been on my mind for some time,“ said Chase. “I have taken time out of my summers to attend college camp at Purdue.“ Nay Ah Shing has participated in the GERI (Gifted Education Resource and Research Institute) for years, with Chase and her sisters making multiple trips to the program.
Chase was captain of one of Nay Ah Shing’s two Ojibwe language quiz bowl teams before the pandemic brought an end to the season last year.
“I’ve been thinking about doing college classes on the language because I want to learn more and help revitalize it,“ Chase said.
This year, she’s studying the language through Zoom classes with Nay Ah Shing teacher Waabishkigaabaw (John Benjamin). “He’s doing a great job,“ she said.
Don’t worry about Chase getting too serious too soon, though. She also has typical teen interests, primarily playing her favorite video games and collecting related merchandise.
The Rosetta Stone project is a golden opportunity for Chase to bring all her interests together, as some of her illustrations will be used for characters in language learning videos.
And while there’s no plan — yet — for figurines or other “merch,“ Chase’s characters may one day be part of the collection of another young artist with big dreams and loads of talent.