Mitakuyepi, cante wasteya nape ceyuzapelo. My relatives, I shake your hands with good feelings in my heart.
Within our traditional indigenous languages lies our unique worldviews. Worldviews that help define our relationships that connect us to one another, other creation, the land and the greater cosmos. Our traditional languages speak of our roles and responsibilities within those relationships. Our languages defined our values. Our spirituality, the way we live, defined our languages.
Across the globe, for indigenous peoples, colonization has left in its brutal genocidal wake mass poverty, dispossession from lands, divided communities and fractured Nations. Colonial efforts sought to strip any semblance of traditional spiritual, cultural or linguistic identities from indigenous communities. Central to any colonial efforts are attempts to destroy traditional communities’ sense of identity, identities that connect one to their sense of self and their connection to community, the land, and other creation.
The colonizer sought to replace traditional identities with an identity filled with loss and void. This individual, empty identity becomes necessary to promote the ideals of the capitalist consumer state. The individual is taught that one’s sense of emptiness can only be filled through the false illusions mass consumerism promoted by the capitalist state. The individual, not the community, nor the larger mass of relations, is what becomes important and is valued.
The capitalist consumer state in essence is the antithesis of being indigenous. Colonization leads to the removal of one being rooted in the land, community and self. Indigenous values promote the well being of all relations with an understanding that we co-exist with one another and act in accordance for all life to exist. For the consumer state to exist the colonizer must strip indigenous communities of their indigenous hearts and minds. Central to these efforts are the destruction of traditional spiritualities and languages.
“It is a great mistake to think that the Indian is born an inevitable savage. He is born a blank, like all the rest of us. Left in the surroundings of savagery, he grows to possess a savage language, superstition, and life. We, left in the surroundings of civilization, grow to possess a civilized language, life, and purpose. Transfer the infant white to the savage surroundings, he will grow to possess a savage language, superstition, and habit. Transfer the savage-born infant to the surroundings of civilization, and he will grow to possess a civilized language and habit.” –Captian Richard Henry Pratt
It should be no surprise that in indigenous communities from across Turtle Island, and the globe, we see colonizers implement various forms of criminalization to outright bans on traditional ceremonies, costumes and use of traditional languages. In boarding and residential schools in the United States and Canada languages were outright forbidden and enforced through harsh and sever punishments. The indigenous peoples of Hawaii had their language banned in 1896. Removal of one’s Native tongue was seen as priority in colonial efforts. Destroy the Native tongue and you destroy the Native mind.
“Teaching an Indian youth in his own barbarous dialect is a positive detriment to him. The first step to be taken toward civilization…is to teach them the English language.” -Commissioner of Indian Affairs John D.C. Atkins
It is with this history in mind that we must place the learning, relearning, and passing on of our varied indigenous languages at the forefront of any serious attempts to decolonize our Nations, our hearts and our minds. Colonization has been successful in imbedding into our collective psyche skewed and harmful notions about our relationships to each other, our other relatives and to our first mother Maka Ina.
Imagine how different the current state of global affairs and the environment would, and could, be if we, as children of Maka Ina, truly internalized the accurate descriptor as the earth being our mother. We wouldn’t see invasive and destructive projects like the Tar Sands, or nuclear weapons, or the releasing of harsh chemicals and pollutants. One would not inflict this grotesque behavior on their Mother, the one who provides and nurtures for them.
Colonial eyes do not see her as our Mother, the one who so unselfishly comforts, cares and nurtures us, but rather as a commodity one that exists only to generate profit. This is how they want you to see her as well. Without convincing peoples that the earth is a commodity, no child would sit idle and watch their Mother (Ina) be attacked, assaulted and mutilated in the fashion the Maka Ina currently is. This is why eradication of traditional spirituality and language was/is so important to the maintaining the colonial empires. If the colonizers can make us passive, if not active, participants in the desecration of our Mother by removing one concept one fundamental truth, that of Maka Ina being our Mother, from our indigenous minds, imagine how deeply the impacts of lost Native languages go in all of our varied relationships.
Let us come together, as indigenous peoples and Nations, to unshackle the chains and binds of colonization to forge and bring forth a new, yet old, way of living and being for the health and wellbeing of Maka Ina, our other relations and the next generations. With our traditional languages as our guide, let us remember what it means to live as a part of all our relations.
Matt Remle LRI-Language Preservation