Day 17: Indigenous Language

{DISCLAIMER: These reflections are solely my reflections from my journey as a Potawatomi woman. They do not reflect the journey or stories of every indigenous person, and it should not be assumed that every indigenous person has the same experiences. Thank you for joining me here. May we grow toward unity together.}

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The first time I listened to an audio recording of the Potawatomi language, I was in theliving room of our two bedroom apartment in Atlanta.

I cried while I listened. The words brought me into myself, back to a time I do no know but wish to understand.

That’s what language does.

I learned Spanish in high school.

I studied Russian in college.

Something about language seems to be this thread that holds the cultures of the world together.

For many tribes, our languages are nearly extinct. There are a few elders left who know the language, who can teach it, and when it is forgotten person by person, after generations it disappears.

Thanks to boarding schools and assimilation in other forms, once you strip a culture of their language, you’ve stripped almost everything.

I didn’t grow up speaking Potawatomi. Hearing it for the first time confirmed that it was something I needed.

Still, it’s a struggle to learn a language if you’re not connected physically to the people who speak it.

I take an online course to learn, and even the very few things I’ve taken in over time are changing me.

Because language is culture.

And so when I learn the words, when I see what they mean and how they work, I understand another piece of the puzzle. I fit something into place and it makes sense. It creates the pictures of my life, my culture, my future and the future of my children.

Every culture’s language does that, and so we celebrate that indigenous cultures have languages to speak that bring beauty to this world, that give us something to learn, something to listen to, something to believe in.

Some public and private schools in certain parts of the country are beginning to teach some indigenous languages, and that’s an encouragement. That’s a step forward.

But we still have a long way to go. We cannot take back the horrors of assimilation that boarding schools in the United States caused, and all the trauma that comes with it even generations later.

But the United States can make a point to honor the language of indigenous peoples, and in doing so, honor cultures as well.

 

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