Sokaogon Chippewa Community News
Indigenous Languages Being Revitalized in Wisconsin in Efforts to Reclaim and Maintain Identity
For Rosa Francour and other educators who are revitalizing Indigenous languages in Wisconsin, their work is about more than teaching people to use different words to communicate.
Language is at the core of what it means to be Oneida, Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Mohican, Potawatomi or Ojibwe, as the phrases and sentences consistently reinforce an Indigenous way of thinking and looking at the world, Francour and others say.
Language is about identity as a people, and it had been nearly completely taken away through forced assimilation, especially at the infamous boarding schools in the late 19th century to mid-20th century where Indigenous children were beaten and punished for speaking their native tongue.
Hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children in the U.S. were forcibly, or voluntarily in some instances, removed from their homes to attend one of 350 government-funded boarding schools across 30 states “to implement cultural genocide through the removal and reprogramming of American Indian and Alaska Native children,” according to the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.
Many children were physically and sexually abused, and elders in the U.S. and Canada still talk about the horrors they endured. People were reminded of that horror recently when a mass grave of 215 children was found on the site of a former boarding school in Canada.
Advocates talk about the generational trauma Indigenous people are still experiencing from the boarding schools with one effect being the loss of language.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that teaching Indigenous language once again became legal in the U.S. with the passage of the Native American Languages Act, which repudiated past government policies of eradicating American Indian languages.
“We’re still feeling the effects of that today,” Francour said. “We’re trying to address the stigma.”
Indigenous government and grassroots programs have been trying since — with limited success — to reach higher levels of proficiency in many tribes, as there are fewer and fewer first-language speakers.