American Indian Language Programs: Language Clears the Trail of Culture

American Indian Language Programs

Symbolic Petition of Chippewa Chiefs, presented at Washington, January 28, 1849, headed by Oshcabawis of Monomonecau, Wisconson.

American Indian Language Programs

Interest in learning native languages has reached a feverish pitch. Some tribes who have remained remote to western influence still have a large population of fluent speakers while others have none and must borrow from other tribes.

For over thirty years the effort to teach the language was done with flash cards. Not one fluent speaker was ever realized out of this effort. We were introduced to language immersion by the Maoris of New Zealand, who had several thousand fluent speakers but saw the threat of loss of language.

For all of us who are Indian, our first language is not English. However, some of us only know English and have no interest in learning our first language. This is kind of like the man who sat down by the trail and the trail eventually grew over and he could find his way no more. Our languages say so much more than can be said in English. As Native people under the influence of the dominant culture, language is only one aspect of our cultural and traditional recovery, but a critical one.

I share with our people that being Native is in our DNA no matter how many generations we are away from our origins. There are parts of that DNA that are dormant and can be awakened through stimulus. I remember sitting and listening to the elders sit around our kitchen table and speak in the Odawa language thinking how beautiful it sounded even though my father made no effort to teach us. He later told us that he did not teach the language because we needed to learn and be fluent in English because of the conditions we were going to be living in. In his old age he regretted that he hadn’t taught us. I have been doing everything I can to learn our language hoping to be fluent in it before I walk on.

In my book, Dancing My Dream, I use numerous native words from my ancestoral language, Waganakising Anishnaabemowin. To learn more you may purchase Dancing My Dream through this web site or through

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