Learning Anishinaabemowin Is Decolonization


Will Morin and Chris Pheasant who hosted  workshop "7 Grandfathers and 7 Grandmothers"

Will Morin and Chris Pheasant who hosted workshop “7 Grandfathers and 7 Grandmothers”

SAULT STE. MARIE, MICHIGAN – What if I told you that lost feeling of, “Learn Anishinaabemowin? Ha, maybe in another life time!” was not only a state of mind that will no doubt lead to the loss of our mother tongue, but more importantly is completely wrong!

I attended my first Anishinaabemowin-Teg Inc. Language Conference this past weekend March 27th and 28th, 2015, which is on its 21st consecutive year. It was hosted by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians at Kewadin Casino and Convention Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Within the first speakers, the enthusiasm and pride that new methods of learning Anishinaabemowin existed was simply overwhelming like seeing with your eyes for the first time.

The elders leading were all survivors of the tremendous nationwide policy of cultural genocide that was law across both the USA and Canada; which was to instill shame into the very root of being Anishinaabek and to separate children from their communities. This trauma has splashed over to the present generations of Anishinaabek people. The choice of these elders not to give up on our language and our people, bring strong waves of resilience to this conference and shed new hope to the current generation of eager students, frustrated to the point of hopelessness with the current teaching methods.

Our language was a 100% without English and still is. Anishinaabemowin sounds, sounds not words, were not traditionally written. The intimidation factor that new students get from seeing Anishinaabemowin in written form, is looking at our language though colonized lenses. There was a movement to reapproach our language learning path, a plea to not teach Anishinaabemowin as a “literal” English translation; that flawed approach adds to the masking and disservice of the Anishinaabemowin language. Equating an English word to an Anishinaabemowin helps neither party.

I am not going to type out a literal translation but here is a classic example of Anishinaabemowin translated to English, what takes two whole sentences in English a total of 33 words can be expressed in just 5 sounds in Anishinaabemowin. Thus leading to the scholarly disconnection of Western linguistics and Anishinaabemowin for this very reason there is a troublesome distrust that a language can exist outside Western language rules, the sense is, “impossible! Not under my watch! That can’t be so!” yet here we are decolonizing our return to the mother tongue

Learning Anishinaabemowin instills pride and self-worth in the Native speaker that has been disconnected for far too long. The teachings are interlinked in religion, our way of life, geometry, art, creation, and science. Not having these teachings is not knowing one’s self. The student is tasked to dissect and inquire on the true meaning and awaken one’s self from our colonized mindset, where as in English a word is just a word nothing more. The ability to see the Anishinaabemowin as a mental imagine in their syllabic breakdowns and to place actual attachment on a higher level; is an achievement I can honestly say never clicked in practice with English, in my 16+ years of Western education, thank god for spell check.

I’m not a gambling man, but I’m willing to wager that in the upcoming years it will become taboo for Anishinaabek people not to reclaim fluency or at least be on the path to active learning of Anishinaabemowin. So I challenge you with this movement #ReclaimAlgonquin, all dialects no exclusions. Let us all as Anishinaabek people not let the past generations, riddled with scars be in vain, their whisper must now become our generations roar!

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