This year’s TLAM begins with language. There are many Indigenous languages still spoken in Wisconsin and thinking about their significance, survival, and revitalization seems like a good place to start our semester-long journey.
To help us understand the importance of language, we invited Rand Valentine, the director of the American Indian Studies Program and a Professor of Linguistics at UW-Madison, to speak with us. Rand has been a Anishinaabemowin learner, teacher, and researcher for over 20 years and has worked with communities in the US and Canada. He has also participated for many years in the Native Language Instructors’ Program (NLIP), a summer program taught at Lakehead University, in Thunder Bay, Ontario, which certifies Ojibwe and Cree language teachers to teach in the province of Ontario.
Rand was really memorable. He began the discussion by noting our location on the 4th floor of Helen C. White Hall. We have an amazing view of Lake Mendota, but we’re separated from the Earth by four floors of concrete. And this is our contemporary norm. Native languages, however, are the sum of thousands of years of close relationships with the land — an experience they may never happen again in human history. Languages express the collective knowledge of countless human lives. They reflect a deep connection to the Earth and are impossible to replace.
We also learned about language revitalization efforts. From the Potawatomi Cultural Center Library & Museum’s impressive website and online language materials to the Ho-Chunk Immersion Daycare that’s teaching young children to be first language speakers (the first in over 50 years!), there’s a lot of important work going on in Wisconsin for language maintenance and revitalization.
Speaking of revitalization, on Friday (January 29) we also had the great fortune to meet and listen to three amazing storytellers who are themselves leaders in language revitalization. As part of the 13th Annual Evening of American Indian Storytelling event, Nancy Jones (Ojibwe), Mary Louise Defender-Wilson (Dakota-Hidatsa), and Joey Awonohopay (Menominee), each shared stories with the UW-Madison community which were first told in both their first language and English.
What’s more, four TLAM students were involved in either organizing the event or introducing the speakers! Great job Stephanie, Josie, Christina, and Omar!