To kill a culture, destroy its language

Anyone who has read U.S. history, especially the relationship between both the church and the government and the indigenous tribes, knows that the powers that be did everything they could to destroy native American languages. It was thought, with much arrogance, that Indian Nations needed to become more white. That included speaking English, becoming Christians, and giving up everything else that contributed to the identity of the people in the territory that eventually became the United States.

I am happy to see that work continues to restore Blackfoot, Hawai’ian, and other indigenous languages before the last native speakers die. While the youth in such cultures may not yet understand this, the dying languages define  who they are, their cultures, and their world view.

This is a sensitive subject for me since my Scots ancestors faced the suppression of Gàidhlig which now faces an uncertain future in spite of attempts to maintain it.  In general, the subject of reparations bothers me because it breaks an age-old axiom that sons and daughters cannot be held responsible for the crimes of the fathers and mothers, and grandparents.

Yet, I think we can find ways to become more aware of endangered languages and, potentially, donate time, money, and other resources to schools and other organizations trying to save native languages from oblivion. I am partial to the Piegan Institute in Browning Montana that is working to restore the Blackfoot language. For an English speaker, I find Backfoot very difficult in part because it’s built on a world view so different from mine.

One of the founders of the Institute asked me why I cared. I said that my ancestors’ language (Gàidhlig) was banned for the same reasons Blackfoot was banned. Banning a language steals a culture’s soul and keeps it under our thumb

Malcolm