THELMA WHISKERS: The young ones, they say oh Mrs. Whiskers, its kinda hard to talk and I said nope. If you keep coming and I keep teaching you young ones, it’ll be easy for you, young parents and on my tribe, they don’t talk in their own language and it’s just English English and I tell them you guys ain't no white, you guys are Indians. And you guys are Utes and let’s keep that. You know let’s don’t forget our language. And I tell them [Native language]. And I tell them [Native language]. That means bear, [Native word].
MATIKA WILBUR: [repeats word]
THELMA: That means a bear.
MATIKA: He's coming.
THELMA: He's coming to our reservation.
MATIKA: You better be able to talk Ute to him so he doesn’t eat you.
ADRIENNE KEENE: Hi everyone I'm Adrienne Keene.
MATIKA: And I’m Matika Wilbur. Welcome back to another episode of all my relations, today we have a packed episode for you on what may be the most vital conversation in Indian Country, we're discussing the state of Native languages. In fact, the UN declared 2019, the International Year of Indigenous languages. To this they say, quote, languages play a crucial role in the daily lives of people, not only as a tool for communication, education, social integration and development, but also as a repository for each person's unique identity, cultural history, tradition, and memory. But despite their immense value, languages around the world continue to disappear at an alarming rate. With this in mind, the United Nations declared 2019 the year of Indigenous languages, in order to raise awareness of them, not only to benefit the people who speak these languages, but also for others to appreciate the important contribution they make to our world's rich cultural diversity.
ADRIENNE: The UN tells us that there are 7000 languages spoken worldwide, 370 million Indigenous people in the world, 90 countries with Indigenous communities, 5000 different Indigenous cultures and 2680 languages, they deem in danger. Yet, in spite of everything, there are still 150 Native North American languages spoken in the United States today by more than 350,000 people. According to the American Community Survey data collected from 2009 to 2013. Though most of these languages are on the verge of going to sleep. Many are holding on and revitalizing the Navajo language for instance is the most spoken Native American language today, with nearly 170,000 speakers. The next most common is Yup’ik at more than 19,000, Dakota with over 17,000, Apache with over 13,000, Keres at also 13,000 and Cherokee with 11,000. However, the majority of Native Americans today speak only English. Of the roughly 2.7 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives counted by the 2016 census 73% of those aged five years or older spoke only English.
MATIKA: Right. But we should add a big caveat with all this data. This data was hard to track down and multiple sources had different numbers. It's hard to trust anything gathered by a government agency and none of the statistics that we could find were collected by Native people, so it's not clear in what we could find how folks determine fluency or what is deemed a dialect versus a language, or even how these numbers were collected, which is a part of the larger problem, these languages aren't seen as a priority, and it's only been very recently the efforts have been made on a government level to sustain and support Native languages. For hundreds of years, the United States has tried to actively erase, and eliminate Indigenous languages through federal policy, assimilation practices and government run boarding schools, English only laws, and more tactics of colonization.
ADRIENNE: For instance, according to the National Library of Medicine in 1887, the Indian Affairs Commissioner banned Native languages in schools, mission schools were required to provide all instruction in English, and officials directed that missionaries who failed to comply would not be allowed on tribal lands. The order was then extended to government run schools on reservations, and these rules were in place well into the next century. Many of our grandparents and elders have stories of being beaten or punished for speaking their languages in school. And as a result, many of our parents didn't learn our languages, leaving our generation and the even younger generations to be the ones to reclaim and relearn what was taken from us. We both really struggle with the framing around Indigenous languages as in a constant state of loss and danger and extinction and vanishing. There's so much urgency and we need to be moving quickly, but sometimes constantly drawing attention to the peril makes it feel, well hopeless.
MATIKA: But it is absolutely not hopeless. And so much, beautiful, incredible work is happening in the world of language revitalization. And as we'll see later in this show even languages that have been sleeping for a long time, and haven't had a first language speaker for over 150 years can be brought back to having a vibrant community of speakers through hard, hard work, which is the case with the Wampanoag language, as is the experience with Hawaiian speakers who in the 80s had only 50 1st language speakers and now they have over 5000 Native language speakers in Hawaii. The same is true in Mohawk territory. And with speakers in Pueblo country that speak Towa. Incredible immersion programs are revitalizing language, which I've witnessed firsthand, all over the country. I mean, to name a few of the Nk̓ʷusm Salish immersion program in central Montana, the Tolowa Dee-ni’ language in Northern California. The Arapaho tribe in Wyoming. Languageness and tribal colleges in the Great Lakes region. The freedom schools in Akwesasne, the immersion school in Pechanga, tribal language programs in Kumeyaay, Comanche, Cheyenne, and Cherokee. It's so wonderful to consider that we are living in a time of language revolution. However, on a personal level, I often feel shame around this topic, especially when people ask me, Matika do you speak your language? To which I have to bumble some sort of like a pathetic apology or [unintelligible] about the effects of colonization. My experience with speaking Lushootseed is a result of the policies that Adrienne mentioned. My grandma was sent to boarding schools and punished for speaking her language. The town that I grew up in is incredibly racialized and up until the 70s, there were signs on the walls that said no Indians or dogs allowed. I remember my aunties telling stories of being sent home from school for smelling like an Indian and being made fun of for sounding too Indian. We've been made to feel ashamed of our rich cultural selves, which resulted in many of our own people feeling afraid to teach that language to their babies, so you know I wasn't one of the ones that was lucky enough to hear my language around me, casually spoken in public spaces. I think I only really heard our language spoken in ceremony or in private at Indian only events. I'll never forget when I went to a more fluent nation. It was my first experience really ever walking into a public place and hearing the language spoken as though it was the only language that was spoken in the place like going to another country and I was in the Pueblo of Zuni. And I walked into the gas station and the woman asked me how she could help me in her language. And it was like this huge like aha moment for me. Like this. This moment where I was like oh my god there's still tribes where, where their language is the first language, and it lit a fire inside of me. Fire really that gave me the courage and conviction to believe that our people deserve to hear their own language. Alternatively, I remember when I was in Lovelock, Paiute and I met Miss Helen and Miss Helen was blind and barely 95 pounds and she couldn't hear out of her left ear. And she was telling me compelling story after compelling story. She told me stories about redheaded giants and water babies and how to harvest pine nuts and where to find water in the desert and she told me about the intricacies of [Native word] life. She told me stories as if they needed to be told before it was too late. And I remember when I asked her if I could take her picture and she laughed she said why would you want to take my picture and I said, Well, because this Helen everybody in Paiute country told me about you, they said that you're the last carrier of the Lovelock Paiute language. It would be my honor to take your picture. And Miss Helen started to cry. And she said it's true. I'm the only one here left that I can talk to. And I remember when I left Miss Helen’s that day and, and I was sort of like had to pull over and cry in the desert you know it was so like devastated by by the realization that, that this is a reality in our communities. And you know, shortly after that. Miss Helen passed away, and with her the fluency of the Lovelock Paiute dialect.
ADRIENNE: Man it is heartbreaking to think of these stories. And I remember being in grad school and my friend Kendry who’s Tlingit posted a Facebook post about her new year's resolution or goal setting or something, but she wrote when I think of my best self, I think of a Tlingit speaker. She probably doesn't even remember writing that I think about it all the time, because often when I think of my best possible self, I think of a Cherokee speaker, but no one in my family has spoke Cherokee since my great grandma. My grandma grew up hearing the language in her house and her grandparents spoke primarily Cherokee, but she never learned to speak it. And my mom definitely wasn't ever exposed to it, and now there's me. So I really try to learn what I can and the Cherokee Nation has amazing resources, but there's no one in my family I can turn to for help, and I live in Rhode Island so it's not like there's a huge Cherokee speaking community around. But when I think of my future fictional children, or what I hope my future looks like. It involves learning much more of my language because honestly I feel like the language contains so much of the cultural knowledge and worldview that I don't have and I wish I had.
MATIKA: Well that's exactly what Harry Oosahwee discussed when I interviewed him in Tahlequah, and before we jump into that conversation, let's give the audience a little background information Harry was born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. His first language is Cherokee, and he began to learn English when he was six years old. He's a graduate from Bacone college and he earned a Master's from Northeastern. And he has spent his life as both an artist and a prolific language teacher dedicated to teaching Cherokee. He's authored books on the Cherokee language and is widely celebrated for his artistic contributions. I came to discover Harry through my friends [name] because he's her dad. And when I was in Oklahoma recently for Project 562, I made a special trip to Tahlequah to photograph him and interview him for this segment. He speaks like a real elder you know and I appreciate his perspective because he reminds me of my own elders, which is such a gift.
HARRY: When I first started the language program, it was in a Cultural Resource Center. And it was like, there are a lot of people really interested. And one thing that I have to say that this point is if you want a language to survive, the people have to take ownership, you know, the tribal governments are going to do it. It's got to be people within the community, if they if they really want it they got to take ownership that language and bring it from home to communities. You know, academically, you can't do, because it doesn't carry the same weight in the academic world. With us Native people I think we have to look at beyond just as a political game and things like that it's got to be something that we want as a people, you know, and it has to be something that's gon be important to us as a community and as, as, like I said individual people to take it as a need, not a want but a need to learn the language, you know. And that's always gonna survive I think especially our language we're at a point now where. When I first started the program, I kind of looked at as a renaissance of language learning, you know, I really saw this as a as a revolution for language learning at that point because there were so many people within that area I was with that really was supporting this, this program this language program initiative that we were looking at.
MATIKA: What would you say the state of the language is right now I mean how, how many Cherokee speakers are there, how many learners are there and I mean you've dedicated much of your life to this right like you studied it in grad school, you you've written books about this topic, you're currently working on another book about this, about the Cherokee language and so maybe you have a strong handle on on the state of the language.
HARRY: I don't know exactly how many people have but I don't think it's 10%, it's probably less than that, that are fluent speaker. By fluency, I mean, people that can make complex sentences complex stories they can tell you know it's it's not someone that says [speaking Cherokee], or someone that says [speaking Cherokee]. Those words like that [speaking Cherokee] those aren’t fluency. To me, if you want to be fluent you got to be to make complex sentence structure in the language you know and be able to tell stories in a way that then you can talk about what happened last year to your school through your school 10 years ago, what's going to happen in the future all these things that that takes the brain to work in the complex setting, and that to me is fluency. And as far as our people who are what state the language is in it sits in pretty bad shape it’s in pretty bad shape with the number of people we have in our tribal citizenship. So, if, if nothing is done, this is almost like the last lap and try to get something going I think from my perspective, you know, because people that speak language are in their 70s 60s, very few 50s. Very few 40s, and very few 30 year olds. Yeah, you prolly count your fingers on the two hands in the 30 year old. As far as speakers are concerned, fluent speakers. 40. You may have hundred, two, three hundred, four hundred. 50s, maybe a bit more 60s 70s. And then you're losing, and we're losing speakers, every day, we learn in fact we lost our last monolingual speaker that we are aware of, two weeks ago. McMahon, just passed away. And it was, as far as the tribe knew, he was the only monolingual person today. There was a study that came out of Portland that submits language to [unintelligible], I think was in National Geographic they had done, a kind of like a study on world language loss for the greylist and Oklahoma was one of the, one of the hot spots for language loss because the number of tribal groups they had in Oklahoma, and it was a alert from us and me I knew that though, already, because man a lot of our tribal people I mean you go up there to the northeastern corner with the Ottawas, Quapaws, Wyandottes, Senecas, and Oneidas, all those guys, [unintelligible] their language left you know, Peorias, Quapaws, and those guys and in western Oklahoma you have the Kaws and Peorias and those guys that maybe they donʻt know their language enough, there's just a massive loss of languages, you know, so we're fortunate we have enough people that we could make things happen, but then again it has to be community wide. And people have to want it. If they don't want it, it's not gonna happen.
MATIKA: Yeah in some of your poetry you say Cherokees exist only if they speak Cherokee can-
HARRY: Thatʻs a hard statement to make people don't like that.
MATIKA: I bet.
HARRY: I've said that in classes and Iʻve said it in workshops I've attended over the years though that it's if you don't think in that that language. I mean, you can't honestly say you're that particular group of people, you know.. I can say Iʻm white cuz I speak their language I understand with the concepts that they have, when I say the concept maybe not but I understand well enough to get by. Now, if a person is able to speak Cherokee, they see a whole new concept, ideology, worldview that that doesn't exist in a white manʻs world, in a white man's English, you know, so it's hard for me it's hard to not see it hat way, you know it's it's the idea that's always been in my head you know you gotta be who you say you are, you know, a Muskhogean is a Muskhogean because they speak Muskhogean. Cheyenne is Cheyenne because they speak Cheyenne, that's what identifies us as individual peoples. That's the genesis of who we are. That's the center and essence of who we are, the language because I could pass for an Asian, I could pass for a Crow, Sioux, anybody tribal group. But when I say [speaking Cherokee]. To me that's that tells me hey he speaks that language to understand something he was he knows who he is and who he is. That's what I think. The that when I say that because it's it's pretty it is harsh, you know and I know that then and my kids they, they say it's harsh, you know, and, and it is, but that's the way I was brought up you know the old people always said you know you got to be able to speak language to be able to identify yourself as [speaking Cherokee]. Language is important. It's important part of who we are proud of the most basic importance of who we are, is that that language because man, I mean, everyone was given a language to speak, you know, that's the old saying that [speaking Cherokee] that we have call ourself [speaking Cherokee]. There's names like Cherokee, UKB, Western Band, Eastern Band, theyʻre all misnomers yeah they're just given to us by other people. But if we really got down to it, like, I had my Lakota people change their name from Lakota to Sioux. Different tribal groups, Dine for instance, they're not Navajo, theyʻre Dine, you know. And I think we should we need to change our names to [speaking Cherokee, which is the real name for us. You know people have always said that [speaking Cherokee] we're [Cherokee word] Indians. Yeah. So, to me that that would be a significant change for the attitude of our Native people, Cherokee people think so called Cherokee people, if we all change our name to [Cherokee word] Eastern [Cherokee word], UKB [Cherokee word]. To me, weʻre one in the same people. Yeah, so that's what we should put the umbrella over us is [Cherokee word] people. Yeah. And then we can honestly say we are all the same people, and we speak the same language we use the same syllabary Sequoia wrote and so it's no big deal to do that. I mean from my perspective but from political. It's difficult. Yeah.
MATIKA: Well, I'll tell you I you know, white folks are always asking me well you know I heard you heard what you have to say today so what can I do to become a good ally. And my response is always you know like, first of all, that's your work not my work is to learn what that means. But if I was to really start thinking about it. I think here's a few things I know, I know that if our kids know, our Indigenous kids know the creation story of the place that they are they're 80%, less likely to want to commit suicide. So there's something very powerful and profound teaching our creation stories and to do that you have to speak the language. And so that means that all of us no matter where we're from have a responsibility to learn the creation story and language of the place that we're occupying, whether we're Indigenous or not. Now I know a lot of folks especially Pueblo people that would say you know we don't teach this language to non Pueblo people, and I respect that was their decision to make. But I also know like in my community that these languages are recorded. They're taught in universities. There's dictionaries, the content is there and available, if you have the heart and the mind, that good mind to learn that and pick it up and I think that that that's important. And that's partly why we're doing this episode is so that we can have that discussion with people like yourself and others from around the country because, you know, the state of our languages is a state of emergency.
HARRY: It's coming too late like I tell people. Theyʻre gonna say man we should have done that ten years ago, you know. Thatʻs too late like Iʻm saying that you know, now it's time to take action now it's time to do something.
MATIKA: Is there anything else that you would like to address before we close?
HARRY: Well, I would just like to see more ladies get involved, true meaning of what language you know we understanding what what it means to have your language, you know, it's something that's uniquely theirs. Every child has a unique language and then it's something that should be maintained and kept. It's a sacred thing, you know it's a sacred thing. And once you lose it man it's free fall, you don't know where you're going, you donʻt know where you're going. You flying in air with no language. No ideology, no philosophy and a worldview, just like everybody else, homogenized. [Cherokee word], or Cherokees, we have been so colonized, that a majority of us have become so assimilated, so acculturated through the western concepts and ideology that we have become desensitized to our own history, language, and culture, that we deny our being and become one of them, the melting pot of America. One day we may have to define ourselves as [Cherokee word] Cherokee-American, much like Irish Americans, Italian Americans etc.
ADRIENNE: Listening to Harry is hard for me on some levels because I completely agree with what he's saying. It's so true that so much of who we are as [Cherokee word] people is tied into our language, and I respect him so deeply and feel so grateful for the work he's done in revitalizing and teaching Cherokee language, but I don't want to think that I can't call myself a Cherokee person until I'm fluent in our language. I think I can work and we all can work, and we can make sure that the language is a goal, but when I was raised 1000s of miles away with the last speaker in my family two generations ago, I really think the best I can do is try and hope that my ancestors can recognize that. But his points are so important. Knowing vocabulary and how to say hi how are you is not enough, and relying on elders to preserve their knowledge is not enough community buyin is necessary, and I think many [Cherokee] people are complacent thinking that there are so many of us, someone must be doing that work, and the language will be okay, but listening to Harry definitely increases the sense of urgency and weight of importance I feel in my own language journey. And I'm just so grateful for him.
MATIKA: Next we bring our conversation to the Lushootseed language program in Puyallup. They offer us an example of what language revitalization looks like on the ground, navigating grants and community and the excitement and challenges of that work. This conversation is back in our studio space in Tacoma, which is on the ceded territories of the Puyallup tribe, honoring the relationship of whose land we were on was really important to us in speaking with folks from Puyallup.
ADRIENNE: We talked with Archie Cantrell and Amber Hayward. Archie is Puyallup and has worked for the tribal community since his days right out of high school, he worked for the tribal fishery and youth center prior to his work with the Puyallup language program, whether it's salmon, the youth, or Lushootseed, Archie's career and perspective exemplifies a passion for conservation and education.
MATIKA: Amber Hayward is Puyallup and Salish and is the director of the develop language program. Prior to her language work she worked in the tribes Historic Preservation department. Amber strives, not just to preserve the Lushootseed language, but also to create materials and promote its usage in classrooms and among the younger generations.
ADRIENNE: The first voice you'll hear in the conversation is Amber, talking to us about her journey into the language program.
AMBER Hayward: I met one of our tribal historians Judy Wright, who worked in historic preservation. She kind of recruited me. I was like I guess I will be there as a research assistant. So I got exposed to the travel history, the archives photos, going to research at museums, repatriation, and just working with an amazing human being who was my director at the time. And she just poured so much into me about our culture and passing it on to the next generation and making sure we preserve everything in the proper way and not necessarily shedding light on particular people or just making it fair and just stating the facts about the tribal history. And so she really instilled all of that in me and I used to see the tribal language written in the documents and her and I had no idea what that was, she would always say I don't know anything about the language. You know, I just I don't know I'm not going to pretend to know either. But it's here and we need to preserve it. And so I'd worked with her, she retired, I felt like it was a good time for me to move on as well. And so, I transferred to the language program kind of doing the same work with, you know, researching the first language speakers of our land in this area, trying to collect audio. And then our council contracted a language consultant [name] here, who's been working with the Lushootseed language here since he was 11 years old. He's been teaching it, he's worked with first language speakers, he's now a linguist and so he came with this new method of using and revitalizing language when formerly a lot of tribes teach it. And so he's like we can't teach it because it doesn't produce speakers. And so this kind of, this is a cat [Native word], this is a dog's [Native word] you know it doesn't produce a speaker because we're not teaching language that we use every day. You know how many times do you introduce yourself all day long. Yeah. So he was like okay do you make coffee and I'm like, are drink coffee and like yes, obviously. So here's what I want you to make coffee in Lushootseed. Okay. You need to wash your hands in Lushootseed how many times a day do you do that? So he brought this new method to us, of using the language, and it completely changed all of our lives because we had all formerly worked with the old method that doesn't produce speaking. And so at the time I have two sons. And at the time, one was, he was like seven. The other was a newborn. And so, I got to test this language out on my kids and in my home. And so my little newborn baby he's actually heard both languages his entire life. And so, not just using it at work, like Archie was saying, it's a part of your life now you have to speak it at home, how can we call ourselves, you know language teachers or trying to revitalize language when we're not even speaking it outside of work or outside of the classroom? So we have to completely bring that into our home. And a lot of times we get resistance from our own family members, for sure. And so, one part of language revitalization is just speaking it you know not based on somebody else's reaction to you, because sometimes the people closest to us, give us the hardest time. So in my family, my own mother and cousins. What are you saying are made fun of you, you know, got labels all over the house. What does this say and, and just continuing to keep speaking the language, and here we are five years later, using this model. And guess what, lots of my family members can speak. They have no choice. And that's to children in the house, nobody to interfere, they're going to speak wish now because you have no choice and thatʻs with two children in the house nobody interfere, theyʻre gonna speak Lushootseed. Yeah mommy says so.
MATIKA: And so what is the difference in that model, it's like, it's. Is there a name for that type of learning or that style of teaching and-
AMBER: We borrowed the model from the Maori people who are very successful in language revitalization in their community. They created language nests, and so they were the ones that started this so that's a part of what how we produce speakers and revitalize language is creating a physical location in our lives that you are not allowed to speak English. So, at work, it's very hard because you get interruptions all day or you have to speak with people that speak English. So our language nests are in our home. So again it's off work time. So usually we start with the bathroom or the kitchen area where you designate one location and you're not allowed to speak English. It could be any other language, but English. So when you're in that space, and somebody is not speaking, Lushootseed or another language. Your its your responsibility to speak Lushootseed. So my kids would speak English to me, and then I would only speak back in Lushootseed and they would get really frustrated, you know, and I'm like, Well, I'm in the bathroom, you know, so if you want to talk to me then you wait till I'm out. So then that helps to bring people along with you or your kitchen area as well. So that's a part that we did borrow from the Maori people, another part is self narration. And so we don't have to have somebody else around to speak it. Say well I don't have anybody to talk to so I can't speak it, so self narrating we talk to ourselves all the time. Imagine I do, so youʻre literally self narrating with everything that you're doing all day long, so we call that we call those domains. And then, increasing our language use to an hour or more a day, so not sure they necessarily have names, but language nest for sure does.
MATIKA: One of my favorite language teachers is a fellow named Kumu Kāʻeo, heʻs from Hawaii. And he teaches in the style of kealaleo, which is language immersion that is uniquely different because it never uses the written word to teach, but rather uses language in its purest form right in the in the tongue, raw tongue, and he says that the pedagogy is different also in the sense that when we begin to understand Indigenous languages we realize that our languages use verbing instead of nouning, and that our, we find from that practice that we have a sense of interconnectedness that's built into our language. And so when we separate like the the ourselves from whatever we're talking about what by using nouning, then it causes us to have a sense of independence, and that that that sense of independence is so opposite our way of life, that it makes sense that our entire language, be, you know, surrounded around verbing. Have, do you guys ever talk about that around here?
AMBER: Yeah, that's exactly Lushootseed works, and then look at what we do, we take English ways of learning, which is nou- nouning. And then we try to put it into our tribal languages when we try to teach. And so again, that, that old method that people use this as a dog this as a cat. Where does that come from it comes from English, you know, and so we do have ours is verb based as well and so when we try to teach the language, again, he is a language teache,r he has to teach it but again it goes back to this, well how did you learn English? Did your parents sit up there with with flashcards and do that to you? No, you just spoke it. You just spoke it and so that's why we have to change our methods because again it's an experience when you're when you're speaking language it's an experience. It's your, youʻre verbing. And so, again, changing that you know and Archie said there's stuff that we get translations for all the time trying to convey English concepts to Lushootseed and we're literally like shaking our heads, or you know slapping our foot. It was just the weirdest stuff. I'm like, Do you really think our ancestors would have talked like that? You're completely trying to give us an English concept, and you're trying to put it in Lushootseed. Do you see how bizarre this is you know and so we it's so hard to have people like oh you don't have a word for Hello. Well no, that's not how we would greet each other. They so badly want to word for Hello or welcome. That's probably the, we just talked about this. Literally just talked about this because thatʻs an English concept. That's not traditionally how our people would greet each other. We would say How are you, where are you from, who's your family? So we have to explain. Well, we would express this as as [speaking Lushootseed]. We are joyful that you have arrived, and then we get well that's so long. You know, we're like, oh, I'm sorry, this doesn't fit into your, you know, you asked me for how we would say that. Sorry, it doesn't fit in you know a few little words but that's how Lushootseed works. So we deal with that quite often. So just educating people on, you know, or they want to put stuff in phonetics so non Natives can read it or you know like well what do who do, who are we doing this for then? You know, because we have a whole set of kids at the tribal school that can read that we have, you know, X amount of people in our community that can read it, and eventually year by year as we keep increasing speakers, our people are going to be able to read that. So again, who are we putting this in phonetics for, you know, so it's just something we won't do.
MATIKA: I like that. Does, so how many language speakers do you think like are left in the Northwest? So for the Lushootseed language, there's approximately 13 tribes that speak this language and the elders were very adamant that it is the same language it is not different. And so you have what you call a first language speaker, which is a person who heard this language spoken, and that was their first language, then you have heritage speakers who heard a language growing up that wasn't the dominant you know like English language. However, they weren't able to use it as much. Maybe they understand it but maybe they don't speak it. So at this point in the Puyallup community we have no first language speakers alive. We definitely can't speak for other tribes, the other 13 tribes. But we are unaware of first language speakers that that was their very first language. There are lots of heritage speakers around, for sure. Absolutely. They have heard it growing up, but maybe they weren't able to express, you know, and speak Lushootseed, they remember words here and there. So, Lushootseed has never left our communities. There are just none that we are aware of that are first language speakers.
ADRIENNE: And so for folks who aren't familiar, I mean this is something that runs so deeply in all of our communities this need to have a focus on the language and revitalize language but for folks who don't know why do we have to do this like, why don't we all speak our languages?
ARCHIE CANTRELL: I would say, obviously the influence of English. I mean it's it's I mean everywhere we go and everything we see is all in English. You know, there was a period, you know, during the boarding school era where people were scared to speak their language and our elders were scared to pass on their, their knowledge of the language because they were afraid that their kids would get beat for speaking it. So, now kind of fast forward here so there's that generational gap there where we where people just did not want to speak Lushootseed and you kind of fast forward because you know, the way I think about it, is like, you know, why, why are some of the things that we did traditionally important, and and carried on for example I'm using the example of fishing. Well, well we still fish and people are still very good fishermen, they still understand how to do that but why are they doing that, well, because there's monetary value. You know in some of our some of our cultural things, there's not very much monetary value in language. And it's even what makes it I think more even more tough is that you know we have a limited amount of speakers, so even if you took the time to learn it yourself, you're still not able to really communicate with a lot of society, because there's not really a, an instant, there's no instant gratification in learning language, besides the fact there's just a pure desire to or our passion to want to do it yourself. And that's something that we battle with, and I get the opportunity to teach language in Chief Leschi School. And one of the hardest things, probably the hardest thing is to figure out how do we get these kids that are speaking language in this classroom to feel comfortable speaking it anywhere else? And I'm even talking about as far as like you know just the hallway. You know that you, as soon as you talk. You know that you you soon as you try to try to talk to one of your students in the hallway they look at you like you're speaking, some other completely different language, because they're like you know they're they're super comfortable in the classroom setting because in that setting. But as soon as you know, we try to introduce stuff into the home, the fact of the matter is, it's just easier to fall back on English. So, but every time we make a decision to fall back on English, we miss out on reclaiming something for Lushootseed. So I guess I In short, my short answer would be there's just no instant gratification, you don't get paid. You don't get glory. You just get to be a more educated Native American.
MATIKA: Well I also think there's like a some embarrassment and shame there right like my nephew's been taking Lushootseed now for four years he's been taking it since seventh grade he's now a sophomore. And this kid can pray in Lushootseed, he can have full conversations in Lushootseed, he but you would never know it, he because He will not speak, he will he understands everything that's said and he'll translate from me occasionally when it comes up, but he won't he won't ever admit to it because he's so embarrassed. And one time we're in this this lodge we have a lodge at our house, and, and it was time for the men to pray and there was only three boys in there, my nephew or my cousin and another one that was younger. He's the oldest and I was like, one of you asked to pray and so and so he sat there and prayed for like 20 minutes in Lushootseed and I was like this lil fucker, but he won't he won't ever like he's embarrassed, because of the sounds are different than English because of like the pressures I think that we have in society to to fit in in the dominant culture. And because you know especially when you're a teenager, you want to feel accepted and you want to feel a sense of belonging and, and, you know, if we don't have these sort of like radicalized spaces of inclusion where our kids feel really safe to express themselves, you know, then, then maybe that is the reaction, you know what you're talking about. I don't know, I've really wondered about that quite a bit myself but.
ADRIENNE: As I'm slowly, like, I know just a handful of words and Cherokee like not even very many but I make these, I have these aha moments of how much is encapsulated in the language that isn't just the word for basket or the word for coffee or whatever it is. And so I'd love to hear from you what is held in our languages besides just the words for describing things in our, our space?
ARCHIE: I think Lushootseed is really cool because there's just so many ideas that you can convey in Lushootseed that there is no way to say in English and kind of vice versa. There's some, there's some, some things that you know some ideas that we try to get across in English that we just have no way to say in Lushootseed and I think it's really interesting that this especially happens like when there's like, like hurtful type of words. You know, I think I was watching a documentary, and it was it had Vi Hilbert talking and she used the quote that you jab with English, and you caress with Lushootseed. I thought that was that that was a really cool quote because it's completely true, because you know we don't really have a lot of like curse words. We don't really have a lot of ways to identify being like annoyed, like you know or things like that so I just think itʻs really cool like as I have learned a little bit more Lushootseed myself that, you know, you kind of start to draw these like it's kind of weird that man in English we got, you know, a million ways to call somebody a bad name but in Lushootseed, you know, we don't really have that. So I think that that's a pretty cool like juxtaposition of the languages.
MATIKA: Archie says really well about how the language comes from the land I think he should talk about that too.
ARCHIE: It is very true. You know, when we, when we first started working on this, on language. Our consultant came up in the phrase he he uses [speaking Native language] Lushootseed language comes from the land, and it's incredibly true, because I'll give you some examples of some words like our word for ocean is [Lushootseed word]. What sound does the ocean make when it's crashing up against the rocks? [speaking Lushootseed] It's really cool. The word for snow is [speaking Lushootseed] because when you're walking in it your or your heel hits first and it's like [mimics sounds of walking in snow. The word for crow. [speaking Lushootseed] why does it say that, or why is it the word because that's exactly what the crow makes. That's what it says. And I mean there's several examples of that type of the language really comes from the land. I mean, there's the words are either what the animals make or what the sound makes when you know things are hit together, just the sounds that nature makes, I mean it is, it is crazy. It's, it's remarkable.
MATIKA: I like that.
ADRIENNE: I like that a lot.
MATIKA: So what is it, what is your day to day lives like to in this process?
AMBER: So, he talked about having a space where kids or adults feel comfortable speaking Lushootseed. So I think that was the first area that we started with, was creating spaces where Lushootseed is welcomed where it's you feel comfortable speaking it and that took four or five years to do that because we saw in the schools where you had, we started going in and and everybody was excited and then you had some staff okay well that's enough Lushootseed we need to get back to you know, work here. And so what does that do to a kid that shuts a kid down, right. We so again having to work through that and you know those teachers have since gone on and moved on to where the school is now like when you apply as a teacher or staff, this is a bilingual school now you know do you. Are you okay with working at a school where another language is spoken so now like these little steps that have, you know, brought us to creating comfortable environments. You know, we would come in we have nothing to lose. This is our job we get paid to speak Lushootseed so we go into the school. Again, we don't have anything to hold us back so we really opened those gates to walking down the hallways and speaking Lushootseed and going and just popping in classrooms and [speaking Lushootseed] and you know and I shut the door you drive by for sure absolutely to creating this environment where now you walk down the hallway and you can say that to anybody and they will respond to you back in Lushootseed, whether they're saying it correctly or not that's it we don't we aren't worried about that. Eventually it corrects itself. So in our community as well like in our administration adults are a little bit different than kids so we get quite a bit of resistance, with adults we would go. We literally made a video about it, about when people see us walking down the hallway what they do they like take off running the other direction. Or like go back into their offices. Oh yeah. But again, if we stopped every time somebody gave us a reaction, we wouldn’t grow the language so creating an environment where Lushootseed is accepted and where our kids are able to speak it and not feel embarrassed. We've worked again like about five years trying to create these environments where that's okay.
MATIKA: So it's good work y’all are doing, it's huge work.
[interlude featuring listeners translating the phrase “all my relations” into their Native languages]
MATIKA: With the Lushootseed speakers, we are seeing the language program at work, let's acknowledge that learning anything is hard. How many of us say that we wish we could speak Italian and the answer is well then go to Italy? Obviously there are multiple roadblocks, such as colonization that keep us from being able to enter into a fluent Indigenous space, let alone even have the foundations intact. All of us have to grapple with the part of ourselves that is going to dedicate itself to our ancestral languages. Sometimes, we might even ask ourselves why? The majority of the people that I encounter on Turtle Island are going to speak English. So then why why suffer through an academic pursuit of language learning? I've been asking, many elders this question as I've traveled throughout Indian country. Recently I was in Oklahoma for Project 562. And I got to meet with one of my favorite aunties. Dr. Henrietta Mann from the Cheyenne nation. I called her on the phone. And I said, Auntie Henri. Why do we need to speak her language? And her answer was so good. I immediately turned to the RV around drove back to Weatherford Oklahoma, so I could record her and share it with you. It's because her answer goes straight to the heart of it all. And it's summarized so well.
ADRIENNE: I'm so excited you got to talk with Dr. Mann. She is the queen of Indigenous education, the originator of Indigenous academic reform. She started tribal colleges, she worked at Berkeley, at Montana State University, at Harvard, at Haskell Indian Nations University. She is so badass.
HENRIETTA MANN: [speaking Native language] I just say that in the Cheyenne language My name is Prayer Cloth Woman, or the woman who comes to offer prayer. I am named for my paternal grandmother. And I am very happy, always to see you, to have you come to see me and, and you just bring me a lot of happiness.
MATIKA: We know that the state of Indigenous languages is is in a dangerous place. And I also know that you're one of very few Cheyenne speakers left, especially here in Oklahoma and so, if you could relate to our young people, why you think it's important for us to speak the language, I think that would be really useful for our people.
HENRIETTA: As it goes with us, older people. When we are asked a question we go back essentially to the beginning of time when our worlds were first created, and we were given the sacred breath of life to utilize in making songs and eventually to to making words of communication to sing our songs, to, to, to be able to utilize that sacred breath of life to communicate with others and that creation,goes clear back into a very very dim memory of 1000s, millions whatever time it was when, when we were first created created as a people [speaking Cheyenne], the people, the people alike, the people that have the same kind of hearts who share the same language the same views of the world the same traditions who walk this road of life together. And [speaking Cheyenne], the creator, brought our world into existence and made us. It is said that he, she, an androgynous being called the winds from the four directions to to come give us the breath of life, so that we could learn to make songs and to to and to utilize our words. We were given our first languages, by the winds in utilizing what their gift to us as individuals. So we have carried those languages and those traditions in our ways of life for an exceptionally long period of time as we have walked this earth, making our journey around Earth and many many generations that have walked this land before us, and there will be many who will walk it after us. When we were given life, we were given certain responsibilities and in with or without saying, it's just implied. One of our charges in life was to keep our languages alive. The way we speak to articulate the way we think and look at the world, the way we live as a peoples, we might call our ways of life cultures and it really needs to be understood and re emphasized that you cannot have language without culture, and that you really must have a culture to have a language. Those two aspects of our ways of being are exceptionally important because you cannot have one without the other. And we lose our cultures or they go into cultural disarray, that affects our languages, and vice versa if we do not have our language. And there's no culture, what do we express? And so, language and culture are are interchangeable but necessary for each other. And so that it has been our responsibility as succeeding generations of Cheyenne people to make sure that we know our language, and that we do our best to make sure that this knowledge is passed on to the coming generations so we stand between the past and the future in terms of carrying out the purposes for which we were put on earth. And as sometimes is stated very simply, I look at my reason for being on this earth is nothing more than, than being a good Cheyenne with all that that implies linguistically, culturally, traditionally, in terms of our value systems, and always keeping the profound and exceptionally phenomenal teachings of our ancestors alive. Well we know what happened in 1492, when this land became known to others in another part of the world and the invasion began. And, unfortunately, in the kinds of ways of life that those who came to live with us, brought with them, there was a an emphasis upon their way of education, completely disrespectful and unknowledgeable, not knowing that we had our education, traditions, and our languages that have existed before all time for us. And in the new schools in that were established on this slammed our own land to call an island, [speaking Cheyenne]. Those individuals that came to share this beautiful land with us brought their, their ways of viewing the world, characterized by what we know as Manifest Destiny or cultural imperialism. But in that process, then, as generations of our young Cheyennes were placed in those educational schools, everything about us as a people's was demeaned and looked down upon. Our ways were not any good. We had to be rid of them, the way we dressed, and we had to be rid of them. The lengths that we wore our hair came into question and then haircuts began to proliferate. But above them all, are languages for the frontal assault of assimilation, our languages what's, what's the schools the new schools that these they taught the spider white people as we call them, brought to this country and established to completely supplant our, our competency based educational plan, educational systems that we had developed and educated our young people, they bore that the frontal assault of assimilation although everything else about us was to be to be put away, to be thrown away, essentially, in those schools. And I'm sure you've often seen photographs of students that arrived at Carlisle Indian School in full regalia with long hair. And then, after photographs of those same individuals with haircuts and in modern dress, and their military uniforms or their tight fitting dresses. And those photographs themselves certainly the before and after are very tragic, but what have has always impressed me in looking at them, is how beautiful we are as a people. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful people. And we still are, we have those same beautiful hearts. But because our languages bore frontal assault of assimilation. And that has been an occurrence over, over the recent generations and there was an erosion a very quick erosion, upon our languages. And in 1991, when I went through our, we call it [speaking Cheyenne], commonly known as a Sundance burn it's the launch of new life to us. When I went through the ceremonies on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana and, and my younger brother and I sponsored the ceremony, they were insistent that no one could pledge, the Sundance, unless they spoke Cheyenne. Being from the south, the warrior societies, who were at that time going to set the date for the ceremony called me in that they came essentially language test. It wasn't really a test as such they asked me some questions to, to see whether or not I spoke their language well enough to become a woman pledger to the Sundance, which was held on the white dirt property. The only piece of land on the Northern Cheyenne reservation that had not been leased for development of one type or another. And so my younger brother who's [name] and I sponsored that Sundance in 1991 number white dirt property. Between Busby Montana and Lame Deer and in show, I have a closeness with my brother, we shared