During high school, Dan Steller, David Wingfield, and Peter Fairfield were all in the same graduating class of ’98. Now, the three “Bro’s” are part of a team racing against time to help preserve the Ojibwe language.
The ’98 grads’ work is currently guided by members of the Mille Lacs Band of the Ojibwe Nation, a federally recognized American Indian tribal government whose members have lived for many generations in the east-central Minnesota region. Peter, Dan, and David are now part of a large group of people –both within Rosetta Stone and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe – who are working hard to make this language initiative happen.
ENDANGERED LANGUAGE PROGRAM
In 2018 Ojibwe tribal leaders from the Mille Lacs Band, based in Minnesota, invited Rosetta Stone to team up with the Aanjibi-maadizing Language Preservation Initiative. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe wanted to create an online Ojibwe Language Learning program that tribal members could access on their own time from anywhere. They wanted to record for posterity the knowledge and voices of their tribal elders who were native Ojibwe speakers while they still had the opportunity.
Anton Treuer, professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji (Minn.) State University says, “When you help to preserve a language, you help to preserve a culture. All told, when it’s done, I think Rosetta Stone will be a historic tool… to go across time and space and preserve and teach. It’s not a ‘silver bullet,’ but it will help to teach Ojibwe speakers for hundreds of years to come.”
THE EMHS TRIO
In 1998, Peter, Dan, and David could not have imagined that 25 years after graduation they would still be in Harrisonburg, visiting with EMHS administrators outside the Rosetta Stone office building, reflecting on their shared professional endeavors.
Peter’s father, John, helped to found Rosetta Stone (okay, maybe Peter could have imagined that future) — the language-learning software initially sold in CD-rom format in big yellow boxes — in the early 1990s. Peter remembers his first paying job scrubbing toilets for the company. After earning a degree in Math from Goshen College in 2002, he returned to the company, and has been lead developer since 2007.
After University, David applied for a photo assistant job at Rosetta Stone. David didn’t get that job, it went to fellow EMHS Alum Steve Witmer, but David was hired as an assistant to the new photo assistant Steve and over time moved into producer, photography, and management roles.
Dan joined the Rosetta Stone team as a contract photographer from L.A., where he was living after graduating from the Los Angeles Film Studies Center. Dan and Bridget eventually relocated to Harrisonburg in 2010 and continued raising possible future EMS Alums. Dan has been a senior creative producer since 2013. For Dan and Bridget, and also for Peter, it’s surreal to find themselves as parents of current EMS kids. “Not to be cheugy, but this community is boots, no cap.” says Dan, referring to the school and area. This hip expression means: “Sincerely, this community is awesome, no lie.”
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