I’ve always liked that part of the movie, Thunderheart, when Val Kilmer’s character is telling how he dreamed about running from the calvary at Wounded Knee and Graham Greene turns to him with an incredulous look and says: “You, you were runnin’ with the old ones – at the knee?”
In our language program we work with Treasured Elders and I’ve always imagined that we are “runnin’ with the old ones.” Our language is being held for all of us — and for the generations to come — by the old ones.
Our program is a project of a non-profit organization, the Association on American Indian Affairs. We exist primarily on donations, grants and being the beneficiary of someone’s will. These donations come from across the United States with most of the donations coming from elderly non-Indians.
So I’ve long tried to explain to the non-Indians across the US why native languages are so important to revitalize – or at the very least – preserve it in archives for generations later on to try and bring it back. I tell them that our elders of today were beaten, or worse, for speaking our language. But I tell them that those stories are the elders’ stories, and are not for me to tell.
We all know what some of our elders went through. Yet, there are elders who saved our language in their hearts. Who, despite what happened, didn’t let the language go. They hold something precious for us.
It is time for all of us to hold out our hands to our Treasured Elders and ask them, in a good way, to learn the language. It is time for us to put down our ipads, iphones or whatever else that takes our time and dedicate ourselves to learning our languages before it is too late. It is time for all of us to run with the old ones.
Tammy DeCoteau is a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and Program Director of the AAIA Native Language Program.
Matt Remle LRI-Langeage Preservation