One of Minnesota’s first languages makes a comeback
October 31, 2010
It was a wild and windy evening, but a crowd of about 60 people turned out for a preview of a documentary about the rescue and revitalization of the Ojibwe language at the Anishinaabe School in Minneapolis on October 26. Many of those in attendance were members of the Ojibwe community who are active in local language education programs. The film is a production of Twin Cities Public Television and will have its debut on November 1 at 8 p.m. on TPT 2.
"Anton gemaa Tony Treuer indizhinikaaz zhaaganaashiiwinikaazoyaan igo gaye." A slender young man, wearing a bright blue shirt and a neat braid down his back, introduced himself in the Ojibwe language. The crowd sat in fascinated silence as he spoke in fluent, easy tones. Although many in the audience could not understand, he must have finished with a humorous remark, as a few of the older folks in the crowd chuckled when he finished.
Dr. Anton Treuer, a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, switched to English to introduce himself again. He is featured prominently in the film, both for his personal story and his work with Ojibwe elders.
Ojibwe is a second language for Treuer, one he studied and learned as an adult. Now his work is dedicated to interviewing the last remaining "first speakers," those for whom Ojibwe is their first language, the language they grew up speaking before they learned English. It is estimated that most of these "functional speakers" are older than age 70, and that there are fewer than a thousand speakers of the Ojibwe language remaining in the United States.
The Ojibwe language is one of the world's imperiled languages. According to program notes for the film, a language is lost every fourteen days. One of the main reasons the Ojibwe language and many other indigenous languages throughout North America have nearly disappeared is rooted in early U.S. policy of assimilating American Indians. At residential schools, whole generations of children were forbidden to speak in any language other than English. The damage to language, culture and family life has been profound.
"We all wonder," said Treuer, "How do we help Indian kids get a leg up in this world?" He believes that when children study their own language and culture, they perform better academically. He pointed to Ojibwe language immersion schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin, such as Waadookodaading, an charter elementary school in Hayward, where the students study all but one hour of the day in Ojibwe and yet pass tests in English at rates higher than their native peers attending public and tribal schools.
The film follows Treuer, and others like him, who are driving the Ojibwe language resurgence. Many of them studied the language at the University of Minnesota, Bemidji State University, and with tribal elders throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario. They are now working hard to establish language immersion charter schools such as the Niigaane Program at the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School in Leech Lake and the Ojibwe Language Immersion program for pre-kindergarten at Anishinabe Academy in Minneapolis.
A key component of these school programs is the presence of "first speakers," Ojibwe-speaking elders in the classroom. They are modeling and mentoring a new generation of first speakers, children for whom Ojibwe is a primary language. With it comes a connection to a long history of Ojibwe culture and a worldview that will help them build a good future.
According to John Whitehead, the film's producer, "This is a generational story that starts with a generation of educators with incredible commitment who taught themselves the language-people like Treuer and Keller Paap-and who went out and learned about language immersion education. They connected with the elders, so key to the future of the language, and brought them together with the children. In the process, they are healing their community. These folks are the heroes."
First Speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe Language will premiere on November 1, 2010 at 8 PM on TPT-2. The film will be downloadable from the TPT website after it airs
MEXICAN CRIMINALS AND THE RETURN OF THE FRITO BANDITO
By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
Many Republicans and conservatives do not seem to know, or appear to not have the faintest clue, as to what is a racially insulting and dehumanizing image. At least they feign ignorance.
It is the same ignorance that was used to claim that there was nothing wrong with usage of the “Black Sambo” or “Chinaman” images of a generation ago. It is the same ignorance that was used to claim there was nothing wrong with using a Mexican bandit – the “Frito Bandito” – to sell Frito Lay’s corn chips. And then came the 1960s.
These people that feign ignorance nowadays always seem to work for political campaigns. Unless the topic is sports mascots. For example, the 1960s bypassed the Washington Redskins and Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians. The dehumanization of American Indians, particularly in the sports universe, has been normalized.
That aside, the rest of these operatives seem to work on political campaigns. But they are not ignorant; they know precisely how to tap into deep-seeded fears and how to stir up profound hate.
The 1988 Willie Horton ad by the Bush I campaign is always cited as a prime example of what campaigns are willing to do to scare the electorate: associate Blacks with crimes. Fast forward to 2010 and fear [and hate] of brown people has also become acceptable and normalized. Nevada Senate hopeful Sharron Angle’s campaign has exploited images of Mexicans coming across the border. However, her explanation is that they actually may be Asian. She made that explanation in front of little children, mostly Mexican, telling them that they too looked Asian.
Across the country, “illegal aliens” have become this year’s election year political piñatas, particularly for those on, though not limited to, the extreme political right wing. This year, a campaign is not complete without an ad of invading brown hordes. Fear [and hate] works in any part of the country.
If one were to substitute the words illegal aliens for say Blacks or Jews, etc – all that is said about so-called “illegal aliens” – would be deemed shocking and socially unacceptable. And yet the use of the dehumanizing terms “illegal aliens” and “wetbacks” are but code words for Mexicans… regardless of where they were born. Thus politicians venomously speak of illegal aliens and even wetbacks, lest they be accused of being racists. The use of such terms, as opposed to “Mexicans,” permits them to believe that they have been granted a racism exemption card.
In Arizona, this is a canard. Here, political operatives have resurrected an image right out of the 1960s. The unflattering image is that of an unsmiling Mexican man, with a massive, oversized moustache. It was produced (photoshopped) and paid for not by Tea Party types or minutemen or vigilantes, but by none other than the Arizona Republican Party (ARP). The image is that of Congressman Raul Grijalva. It is not a generic hit piece; it is a campaign flier mailed out on behalf of his opponent.
The ARP denies that the flier is racist (surprise). Their rationale is that Grijalva has a moustache and he uses it as his campaign logo. A look at the two images will not create confusion. His own image is not offensive. However, the Republican version unleashes a blatant Mexican stereotype made to elicit fear, hate and revulsion. The truth is, conservatives have targeted Grijalva – head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – for his stand against SB 1070, the racial profiling measure that has been temporarily struck down by the courts, and also been denounced by UN Rapporteurs.
Of course, his opponents have a right to boycott Grijalva all they want and they have the right to make any [distorted] claim they wish. That does not mean the rest of us have lost the ability to see a blatant stereotype in the ARP fliers. In reality, the flier projects a stereotype even more vile and sinister than the Frito Bandito.
That in 2010 such stereotypes can be created and defended tells us something about our nation’s state of affairs. It can be dismissed as just an extension of Arizona’s extremist politics, including Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s call for an army of vigilantes to prevent “illegals” from “stealing” the 2010 election. It’s even more insidious than that. It is proof that the anti-illegal immigrant hate is actually good old-fashioned anti-Mexican hate, regardless of place of birth.
It is easy to see why Chief Wahoo has survived into the 21st century; apparently, Grijalva too is being honored by his opponents.
The Seattle Art Museum opened an exhibition of some of the oldest-known objects from the Quileute Nation, including more than a dozen items that have never been displayed from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
The exhibition, “Behind the Scenes: The Real Story of the Quileute Wolves,” is meant to provide a counterpoint to the popular “Twilight” series of books and movies, which fictionalizes the Northwest tribe and its origins. When the first movie came out in 2008, the Quileute’s one-square-mile reservation in a remote part of coastal Washington state instantly became a worldwide destination for tween fans.
But real Quileute have nothing in common with the werewolves that the movies interpret them to be, as 1,600 people who crowded into the Seattle museum this summer to see the tribe’s teens and adults perform their ancient wolf dances soon learned firsthand.
“After ‘Twilight’ came out, I got my ears pinned back by some of our elders,” said Ann Penn-Charles, a Quileute, who dances and shares her culture with her tribe’s youth. She is known as Miss Ann. “They said, ‘How dare they portray us as werewolves? That’s so disrespectful. I want you guys to go represent us the way we Quileute are meant to be.’
“When you get directives from the elders like that you have to honor them. A lot of our youth were like, ‘We’re not werewolves.’ We have been here since the beginning of the flood. Our kids are like, ‘Man, we’ve got to show it.’”
When Barbara Brotherton, curator of Native American art for the Seattle Art Museum, came to Quileute in the summer of 2009 to ask if an exhibition at the museum would help dispel stereotypes, she found the Quileute more than willing.
Brotherton scoured museums and archives across the U.S. looking for historic Quileute cultural materials. While the tribe has lived on the Pacific Coast since time immemorial, it sustained a major cultural loss in 1888 when a homesteader burned the Quileute village, destroying most of the tribe’s longhouses and their precious contents. A year later, the reservation at La Push was established by an executive order from President Benjamin Harrison.
In 1916, Leo J. Frachtenberg, an anthropologist and teacher at a federal Indian boarding school near Salem, Ore., obtained several Quileute ceremonial objects for famed New York collector George Gustav Heye. Frachtenberg sent Heye a letter reporting that Quileute culture was devastated.
Heye assembled a collection of nearly a million Native objects, which was purchased in 1989 by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. It provided many of the Seattle exhibition’s 25 objects, including a painted-wood wolf headdress and a cedar basket with wolf-head designs. Most had never been seen by living Quileute people, and most of the pieces had never been exhibited before.
Between 1905 and 1909, Albert Reagan, a teacher and Indian agent at Quileute, asked the children in his school to draw their culture. The results were rich and vivid, depicting a living culture.
The children’s work was later deposited in the Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives, where it remained unknown to the Quileute for a century. Brotherton convinced curators to let the fragile drawings, made with colored pencil on paper, come to Seattle so that descendants of those artists could see the work. Although the children who made them grew up to be the grandparents and great-grandparents of today’s Quileute, no one remembered any drawings being made.
But the descendants of James Hobucket, one of the young artists, told Penn-Charles that they remember him as an adult using a stick to draw on the sand, and then letting his pictures wash away in the tide.
The century-old drawings depict simple scenes of deep culture—a coming-of-age dance in which people crawl covered in wolf skins while others decorate themselves with salal branches; a wolf society ceremony in which men wear carved wooden headdresses and bark aprons; a public competition between two shamans to see who was more powerful; a whaling canoe with a whale being pulled alongside.
Penn-Charles said the drawings are bringing back information, such as details of the regalia men wore at the time, skirts made from cedar bark. Still, she wishes there were more images, to answer more questions.
Brotherton thinks the drawings show how alive the culture was to the Quileute children in 1905-1909. “Clearly, these kids were watching wolf dances, even if it was outlawed and only being done privately.”
The exhibition doesn’t dwell on the books and movies that prompted it, except to show Quileute objects or types of tribal objects that have appeared in the films. The movie character Emily, who is supposed to be Makah, wears a carved paddle necklace, like those commonly worn by the Quileute, the Makah and other tribes in the area. A replica of a deer-hide drum borrowed by the film crew from a Quileute girl is on display. And a dream catcher featured in the movies is not Quileute at all, but is made more “coastal Indian” by the inclusion of beach glass and a wolf charm.
“Twilight” has drawn tourists from all over the world to the Quileute reservation, about a four-hour drive west of Seattle in a rainy corner of Washington state. Rather than closing their borders, the Quileute have let the world in to the Wednesday night drum and dance circle where they teach their culture to their children. Instead of focusing on the liberties Stephenie Meyer took in making up a fictional culture for a tribe and naming it Quileute, the Quileute have focused on getting more of their youth to dance, to know their songs and practice the culture that makes them distinct in the entire world.
“When we do our dances we carry our families; we dance to represent our families,” Penn-Charles said. “We dance all together as one, and never turn away anyone from dancing. The elders don’t like it when only certain people go up to dance. If someone wants to dance we let them all dance. If they have a shawl, we bring them out, and always bring extra shawls.”
One of the Quileute youth told Brotherton that if he were making the “Twilight” movies, he would have put a lot of Quileute culture in, because it’s a great culture.
“I think there is a real intelligence among Quileute kids,” Brotherton said, “that ‘Twilight’ is Hollywood, and Hollywood does what it wants to do—but they know who they are.”
By Kara Briggs, American Indian News Service