Yeah, me too.
I was just reading the blog post 'The Mythological Indian' over on Where are the Sheep?, and it was totally provoking my thoughts. I started typing my comment, and I entered into one of those writing modes where the words just flow out of you and appear perfect on the page (you know, those ones that are impossible to recreate?).
Rather than slamming my head on the desk and declaring myself done for the day, I decided to pull up my socks and write my own blog post in response to Robert's.
One particular paragraph in 'The Mythological Indian' ignited a small fire within me:
It is true that the stripping away of language and culture has had a devastating effect on Aboriginal peoples that will continue to have repercussions for generations to come. It has had a negative effect on my family; I do not speak the language or practice much of the cultural traditions. I do not consider myself to be less than another Aboriginal person however. I know who I am, where I come from and I am still learning what I am capable of and where I might be able to take it, were I permitted the space and trust to do so.I'll never forget the words of an Irish anthropology professor I had in my undergrad who was teaching a course on 'Aboriginal History in Canada' (or some variant of it). The day's lesson was on language, with an apocalyptic focus on Indigenous languages and their demise.
"It's a well-known fact and proven in history," he began (and you know professors always tell the truth), "that when a language dies, the culture and the people follow."
Never in my life had a single statement instilled so much fear in me!
Of course, me being maybe 21 at the time and him being a professor, I took his words as absolute fact (and, to top it off, he prefaced his statement by citing it as fact).
But these days, I'm beginning to wonder...
I understand the importance of our language. I am faced with it oftentimes when I ask my grandmother the meaning of a word in Algonquin and she pauses, squints her eyes closed for a strained moment, then answers me in a paragraph in English. There are so many cultural nuances contained in our languages that only the Elders understand. My grandmother speaks the old Algonquin, always the second term in the English-Algonquin dictionary, not the new one which I suspect is influenced by Ojibway.
I am fortunate enough to have opportunities to learn my language, if only I make the time to take advantage of them. But what if I don't? And what if my children don't? And my children's children? And then my community? Does that mean we will cease to exist as Algonquin, as Anishinabe?
I hope NOT!
If we acknowledge that our people and our cultures are not static and capable of "death"; if we understand that our people and our cultures will grow, transform and flourish; if we use the English (or French or other) language in our own ways; if we take so-called "western" concepts and traditions, and meld them with our own to form something new...
...if we do all of that, then we will always be here.