I am privileged to have a number of American Indian language speakers in my life. They work in a specific area of recovery that is critical and that is our language. What the boarding schools did not take, time has eroded our memory and many are working to stimulate our minds and consciousness of the great life we once knew.
I have mentioned before that I received my name in 1954. My great auntie wanted me to carry the name of her grandfather. The name was given to him at birth and to me it was part of the influence that stimulated my curiosity concerning who I am and where I came.
The name and the interpretation of it has been impacted by the same time lapses, boarding school interference, and the absence of language speakers that have affected most of us. We had no written language and I have seen different spellings of the same word and not sure if the different spellings did not add to the confusion.
During the period of our grieving, a good brother sent me a song sang in the language that was like a balm to my spirit. I have since made contact with the singer and look forward to purchasing his CD.
I attended a language immersion class and the guide asked my name? I gave him the rendition I knew which I also gave to this singer. I shared with them that my name means “Light That Is Coming.” The title “Petoskey” is a priest’s and tourist’s rendition attempting to interpret what they were hearing from our people and render it to English.
The language teacher and singer shared with me that, based on what the English interpretation is my name would be ‘Pii-tassi-chi-gewin” or “Bii-wassi-chi-ge-win.” Since seeing and hearing this in my spirit I have felt a warming and encouragement.
I have said all of that to say this as well, we are working on recovery. There are things that belong to us that time, assimilation, and stress have eroded in an attempt to erase any memory we might have of these things. How important they are is up to each individual, but for me I don’t want to become lost in the chaos and morass confusion of this “modern” society.
I come from an old people who once were the only people to walk this continent. I have no intention of forgetting who I am and where I come from; nor do I intend to abandon those who sacrificed their lives in an attempt to protect our way of life and manner of worship. Little by little I am putting the pieces back together and in doing so, I have come to realize that I am putting my life back together as well.
Warren Petoskey is a tribal citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, based in Harbor Springs, Michigan. He authored “Dancing My Dream,” an autobiographic book that depicts overcoming challenges he faced in modern society. He and his wife, Barb, reside in Gaylord, Michigan.