Aaniin. Cyndi nindizhinikaaz. Ninonjiba Chigagou, nindadaa Wauwatosa Wiskonsin. Nindoodem animikii gaye miskawaadesi. Nind Anishinaabekwe.
Hello, I am called Cyndi. I am from Chicago and currently live in Wauwatosa,Wisconsin. I belong (have responsibility) to the Thunderbird and the Turtle clans. I am an Anishinaabe (Ottawa) woman.
In October my school – The University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee- hosted the 48th annual Algonquian Linguistics Conference, in which I had the opportunity to attend.
As an Indigenous person, growing up, I have felt invalid due to the erasure of my people’s history in my education and in other forms as well. So much so, that I never even knew that a conference that focused on Indigenous languages existed. This was an eye opening experience for me. Not only did I learn more about language revitalization efforts beyond just the well-known tribes but I also learned that experts don’t have to be in a suit and tie, they can be everyday teachers in classrooms.
The conference I attended focused on Algonquian Languages, with a secondary focus on culture. There are over 20 languages that fall under Alqonquian/ Algonkin family including: Anishinaabemowin, Miami, Michif, Cree, and Innu. These languages are primarily spoken in Great Lakes region within the United States and Canada. Currently, there are 14 active dictionaries of these languages that are being created and added to by linguists, indigenous community members and elders.
Anishinaabemowin ( Ah-nish-in-aah-bay-mow-win) mainly represents three languages, Ojibwe, Ottawa and Potawatomi. Although it is not language spoken by most, there are as many as 50,000 people who speak Anishinaabemowin making it known as an endangered language.
Every half hour to hour, there was a new selection from three sessions. The sessions ranged from technical linguistic analysis of a piece of language to a lacrosse tutorial to taking new approaches to health in the Anishinaabe community. It was obvious that everyone in attendance was well versed in the community and at least one of the languages.
Early on, I hopped on over to a session on the language revitalization of Menominee. There, I found heaven. I had joined that session halfway through the presentation. When I had walked in the presenters were speaking of the structure of the program, and how they were currently in the process of training and selecting teachers to begin teaching at the local tribal school. The Menominee teacher spoke of the importance of language survival because there was a period when Menominee was only “whispered in quiet tones for a long time.” When he said this, it spoke to my core, my being.
A quick sidebar to the significance of this statement: historically, Native people were required to assimilate to American culture through the forcible removal of children from homes and placement in boarding schools. Student’s traditional hair was cut off, they were given “white” names and were forbidden to speak their language. The most common phrase used to describe this process of assimilation came from Richard Henry Pratt, founder of Carlisle School, who stated “Kill the Indian, save the man.”
The further I got into this conference; I saw the passion of youth wanting to honor their families. Many ancestors worked so hard, and risked their lives in these boarding school settings to keep their language. Throughout this conference, I saw panels and presentations on revitalization and preservation of the Ojibwe language / Anishinaabemowin through the Waadookodading School, of the Miami language through the Myaamia Center.
It became evident to me throughout this conference that historically, non-native folks used to dominate the linguistic field that studied Indigenous languages (and when they did these studies, often did it for their own benefit and not the benefit of the community they were studying). There was a shift that I noticed that I was in the middle of though, groups of Native Folks wanted to take back their languages and Linguists wanted to support this in any way they could. When communities of color return to their traditions and languages, it is seen as an act of resistance. Straying from the colonial institutions can be viewed as a threat to people in power.
This conference was wholly affirming of my Anishinaabe identity. I entered this conference intimidated by the experience and research of these top tier linguists. As I sat in on these sessions, I began to find that the many people who were speaking up and presenting were everyday young people like myself, no older than 35. They were Indigenous folks who grew up by the drums singing old songs that they never understood the words to. Their fire was lit when they learned the language and began to understand the meaning of those songs and their relevance in the world. They spoke of the importance of saving our culture by using the language everyday however we can, through songs, poetry, texting your family, in celebrations and in mourning. They reminded us that we need to teach the youth do they can live by the gifts of the seven grandfathers.
As I walk away from this, I realized that the career I wanted to pursue was not where my heart lies. This conference has shown me that I want to carry on the teaching of Anishinaabemowin from my elders. I want to join my community in this fight to strengthen ourselves, to show our resilience. We need to show that despite the efforts of colonization and forced assimilation, that we still found a way to save our culture. We need to continue to speak these languages with every breath into every space. By doing this, we breathe life back into our ancestors.
And since every Anishinaabe story could drag on and on, this is only appropriate:
Nahow. Mi’iw. Gimigwetchin.
Okay then, that’s it. Thank you.