Saving endangered Native American languages

There’s a fair bit about this online, but I’ll just highlight the following:

Canada’s National Post newspaper recently did a multimedia series including the Delaware Indian language Munsee, called Lunaape (ie, Lenape)* at the Moraviantown Reserve in southern Ontario.  Behind the scenes of that story is that First Nation’s Bruce Stonefish, profiled in the Newark Star-Ledger a few years agoHe’s behind a weeklong Language Immersion summer camp at Moraviantown (PDF) that at least went on as late as 2007, maybe last summer too, I’m not sure.  Various ‘official’ and other Lenape and other groups got together with Philadelphia’s University of Pennsylvania a year ago to rap Indigenous Language preservation.  “Unofficial” is that article’s “Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania,” but they seem to be kicking butt in promoting the language at least!  (See here, and this curriculum intended for parents to catch on to and share with children.  I’m not sure if their Lenape language is Munsee or Unami [see “Language Links” below the lessons on that page].)

As you may have seen, Stonefish has taught some lessons to some of my kin, the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape in New Jersey, and visited the State of Delaware, where my Nanticoke ancestors lived after 1742 or so.  But the Nanticoke Indian Association a couple years ago started to resurrect the Nanticoke language with the help of an Anishnabay (or Ojibwe or Chippewa) dialect from Manitoba, since it’s a sister Algonquian language.  Maybe you heard how Hollywood did something similar for a Virginia tribe descended from Jamestown’s neighbors (WaPo link may break).

Why?  In my reading, the folks at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada, say Native Language Immersion is the best if not the only way to treat some of Natives’ social problems both on the Reservation and in larger Settler society, from problems with school grades and academic learning in general, to cultural preservation, to self-destructive behavior, a/k/a internalized oppression/repression/genocide.  Bicultural competence is something many people in Canada know something about.  We’re literally talking about saving lives in many cases.  As Stonefish’s Immersion Camp brochure states: “In order for the Lunaape Language to survive, it needs to once again become an instrumental part of our lives, our everyday conversations and everyday view of the world. Within our language we will find our original Lunaape worldview. It is within our language where we will find the concepts of how we related to all that is around us. It is within our language where the Lunaape people will find keys to understanding our true original identities, gifts and responsibilities to ourselves as well as those around us.”

(*–Both words are correctly pronounced “luh-NAH-pay,” more or less.  The vowel in the first syllable is closest to an American English schwa, that upside down ‘e’ thingie, or more technically, a vowel in an unaccented syllable.)

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Karma, or, Indigenous oppression like a bad psych drug for oppressors?

So argues this talk (PDF).  Try and stick through what seems like gratuitous anti-psychiatry, Tom-Cruise-style, because it builds toward some fascinating, even moving, ideas.  I might even borrow the book he’s selling!

These last few Native-related things come via the Native Studies program at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick.

Indigenous genocide

Andrea Bear Nicholas teaches and works in Native Studies at/from St. Thomas University in the Province of New Brunswick, Canada.  Read through this brief talk transcript at least twice for an inside sense/feel of the genocide that’s still going on against Indigenous people and peoples around the world, including the U.S., as well as “kinder, gentler” Canada.  Against children as well as adults.  Even now, after the closure of the Residential Schools, even now, in “politically correct” government schools.

I think if there’s even ‘one drop’ of ‘Red blood’ left in you, it’ll “cry out to Heaven for” redress.

Professor Bear Nicholas’ talk also raises the question for me, as an Irish / Native American convert in the Greek Orthodox Church, of, What about more-recent immigrants and their languages and cultures?  (UPDATE: Also see FURTHER, below.)  Well, bilingualism, English-French, remains the federal ideal in Canada, although as we are told, there are probably more Chinese speakers than French in British Columbia!  (Tho BC is perfectly entitled to adopt Chinese as an official language … and Manitoba, Ukrainian … and Nova Scotia, Gaelic … etc.  How about Mohawk in Quebec?!  Send Gilles Duceppe back to school! 😉 )  As Bear Nicholas points out, when even school is a “cross-cultural experience” for an oppressed minority child, it’s alot harder: Look at how some majority adults need to receive special training in cross-cultural this and that!  So the alternative is not necessarily two – or more – “solitudes” in a country; she also points to so many Europeans who are multilingual.  (As British “executive transvestite” comedian and actor Eddie Izzard reminds us, “The Dutch speak four languages and smoke marijuana!”)  But it also reminds me how unnatural and perhaps unnecessarily difficult, such humongous and “diverse” conquest / immigrant countries are … maybe frees us to think of better, time-tested ways, tolerant rather than physical-force- or other-force-genocidal.  Can you imagine the Romans trying to impose Latin on the Greeks or the Jews?!  (Tho that scene has more to do with latter-day English schools than 2,000-years-ago Mideastern politics!)

Just thinking…!  Not advocating the violent overthrow of the government or anything.  (I need my driver’s license!)

She also shows how we *all* need Aboriginal education, not just Indians.

Finally, what kind of mental health can be expected from what imperialists have put the rest of the world through?  What blowback?  Suicide, schizophrenia, substance abuse, terrorism, rebellion, revolution, desperation, “unreasonableness,” dangerous romanticism, ideology, demagoguery, fragmentation, civil strife, sectarianism, overdependence, “fundamentalism,” “radicalism”…?

FURTHER

The difference between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous peoples is just that, indigeneity.  In nearly every land there have been Indigenous peoples compromised by non-Indigenous settlers, conquerors, invaders, exploiters, overwhelmers, displacers, etc.  Sometimes their ancestors may not have relocated voluntarily, as with Slaves in the Americas from Europe and Africa.  But non-Indigenous peoples in one land are indigenous to other lands, or their families, their family cultures, languages or dialects, surnames, physical appearance, etc., are.  In theory – I say in theory – if they decided they didn’t like it in the new land, they would in some sense have a home … land … to “return” to, one where they might not stick out as much as if the Indigenous of their new land moved there, one where, if many Irish-Americans are typical, they might even feel an instant ‘mystical’ connection to, even before the plane lands there.  For Indigenous, where they are IS their home … land.  As hospitable as folks in other lands might be, it wouldn’t be the same, especially if the Indigenous in question have managed to retain some Indigenous sense of connection to their home … land … soil … etc.  In the ’90s I thought a little about emigrating to Ireland, but since I’ve learned more about my American Indian background, I wouldn’t dream of leaving the Americas permanently!  I’ve realized as never before in my life a relationship to this soil that goes back literally eons; it’s part of me.

All this may be one good way to understand the special status Indigenous peoples have in international politics, often in domestic law, treaties, countries’ customary law, social ethics or morality or social justice, racial or ethnic justice, etc.  Or should, or aspire to.  Indigenous peoples have been victimized in ways that prove to be fundamental to the very existence of the modern countries in which they now find themselves encapsulated, ways that in doing so fundamentally compromise Indigenous peoples’ way of life, spirituality, economy, language and self-expression, freedom and rights, homes and habits and customs, etc etc etc.  In former times often Indigenous peoples would simply be “terminated with extreme prejudice,” forcibly assimilated, exiled – all things we now consider criminally genocidal, or aspire increasingly so to do.