It’s great to get away, even in your own backyard.
So when my husband’s family asked if we wanted to spent a relaxing weekend at Seven Clans Casino in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, I was all in. I figured I’d spend a lot of time in the pool (and yes, that happened) but I wasn’t counting on getting an inspiring language lesson as well.
We didn’t really make any plans. I just brought my bathing suit, a stack of magazines and my camera. Here’s what we found.
Seven Clans Casino has a Minnesota northwoods thing going on, all pine wood walls and rustic fireplaces, even though it’s basically out on the prairie. Baby Eli liked the light fixtures (he learned the word “moose” on this particular day)… …while I loved the trippy carpet.
I’m not really sure how this fits with the rustic theme, but I seriously have a weakness for psychedelic rugs. I also feel like this would be an excellent name for a jam band. But I digress…
The water park is the main draw and where we spent most of our time. There are four large slides and several smaller ones. There’s also a kiddie pool activity area for the littlest ones (Eli was busy for hours — a minor miracle) and a lazy river.
There are also several hot tubs if you just feel like hanging out, which did. Which I pretty much always do, to be honest. I’ve happily lounged in warm water at an onsen in Japan, a spa in Vegas and a hot tub in someone’s backyard — it’s all good.
Several of the big slides go outside the building, which the kid in me (and the actual kids in my family) got a kick out of. There was some spirited debate about which slide was the coolest, but they’re all fast, many are dark (and stay dark for just a beat longer than is strictly necessary, just to get your heart pounding a little bit) and they’re all a good time.
There’s a casino on the premises, which is pretty much like any other casino — loud, colorful and cigarette-scented.
My mother-in-law gave us all a few dollars to put in the machines. My sister-in-law Jenn is freakishly lucky. She played for hours and pocketed some profits. I played for two seconds, lost half of my money, got bored, pocketed the rest and wandered off to buy ice cream.
Clearly, I’m not a gambler. I like my money right where I can see it — in my pocket, hanging in my closet, in my bank account or on my plate. When I’m in Vegas, I play penny slots at a snail’s pace so I can chat with my friends and keep the drinks coming. They win, I tip well and everybody’s happy.
Since Seven Clans is a dry casino, there was no alcohol to be had, which was fine with me. I got to enjoy my ice cream and sit back and listen to two elder ladies speak Ojibwe (or Ojibwa, Ojibwe, Ojibway, Anishinaabemowin or Ojibwemowin) to each other. It was a privilege to hear it. This language has been in Minnesota for centuries and this generation of elders may be the last to speak it fluently.
That’s because, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the U.S. government made a concentrated effort to assimilate native people into white culture through a heartbreaking series of programs, including the more or less forced placement of Native children into boarding schools. Only English was allowed at boarding schools, so thousands of kids grew up without exposure to their own languages.
Ojibwe is an interesting language, with a mellow, melodic quality because inflection can change a word’s meaning. I’ve seen written Ojibwe on signs at powwows and on White Earth Reservation in western Minnesota, near where I grew up. The long strings of letters (double consonants, double vowels and the letter “z” show up a lot), clustered together to make such visually interesting words, always fascinated me. I can understand easy things like “hello” and “thank you”, but it was wonderful to hear the language unfurling in conversation.
The tribes have renewed efforts to preserve Ojibwe and help the young ones make the leap from conversational speakers to fluency through language programs, immersion schools and other projects. Seven Clans Casino is owned and operated by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and the region is major language center.
If you’re interested in the language, this overview from The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary is a good place to start. And if you have experience with Ojibwe language preservation programs or if you speak it yourself, I’d love to hear from you!
After my little language mini-vacation/shameless eavesdropping session, it was off to the casino restaurant for dinner. The food was basic Midwestern sit-down style fare (burgers and fries, meat and potatoes dinner plates and stocked buffets). It was hearty and filling but not necessarily anything out of the ordinary.
The service at both the restaurant and the hotel, however, was very good and the staff was friendly. I’m always impressed by cashiers, housekeeping and maintenance staff who take take time to really chat with guests. So many people stopped to visit and to make my little boy laugh.
Our room was large and comfortable, with a small balcony and a fireplace. When the baby napped, I poured myself some coffee and spent a few hours reading, writing and napping in front of a roaring fire. It was a great weekend, the perfect mix of busy and lazy.
I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Seven Clans Casino
20595 Center Street East
Thief River Falls, MN
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