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An Interview With Anton Treuer

After our International Mother Language Day event with the Indigenous Book Club, our friend Carolann Jane Duro had the opportunity to interview Anton Treuer, the author of "The Language Warrior's Manifesto: How to Keep Our Languages Alive No Matter the Odds". Carolann and our executive director, Stephanie Witkowski, discussed the first 3 chapters during our event- Anton was gracious enough to contribute his voice to the conversation.

Importance of Language, Chapter 1 Questions:

Q: Why does language ground us in community and Indigeneity more than anything else?

A: Every language embodies the unique worldview of a people. When we access and use our languages we become able to think in that language and see the world through that unique worldview. This is a powerful pathway to knowledge of self and the positive identity development of Indigenous people. It’s healing.

Q: How can we challenge colonial education to be more informed of our cultures and our languages?

A: While Native people sometimes experience hypervisibility, like when being racially profiled, we often also experience invisibility and marginalization. We are missing from a lot of the data sets. And 87% of the school standards in America that have anything to do with Indigenous people only require the instruction of things that happened before 1900. We are underrepresented and that means we often get misrepresented. Indigenous people need to keep fighting the good fight—pressing for a seat at the table and what matters to us. The rest of the world needs to listen. But we are making progress. Every time we break another barrier, build another school, program, or human being, we make advancements. It’s wise to also look for levers to accelerate those efforts and make them stronger. Systemic problems need systemic solutions.

Q: How are our languages connected to our physical, mental, spiritual health?

A: Our bodies, minds, and spirits are deeply connected to one another. We have been reeling from generations of traumas and denied opportunities. When we reconnect to our cultures and languages, we can close the wounds and start the deeper healing. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection. It’s the same with everything else that ails us. When we connect to one another, our communities, ourselves, we heal. When we ignore those connections or have them severed, we suffer.

What’s in the Way, Chapter 2 Questions:

Q: Can you elaborate on how trauma is part of the conversation of language revitalization?

A: Both historical trauma and contemporary trauma show up today and impact us. When someone is dealing with these traumas, it rewires our brains. We become hyperaroused—agitated, angry, reactive—or hypoaroused—spaced out, zoned out, disengaged, numb. We lose our best selves. Our spirits become wounded or even detached from our day-to-day experiences. But when we learn our languages and cultures, we awaken and heal. Language revitalization is much more than academics. It’s life.

Q: How do Indigenous peoples enable fighting and lateral oppression when it comes to language revitalization?

A: I have a section on this in the book. When people experience oppression, they are impacted by it in many ways. Unavoidably, we house a little piece of the oppression inside of us. It shows up in the form of internalized oppression (self-doubt, substance abuse, suicide), lateral oppression (being hard on our own people), intra-oppressed group oppression (being hard on other oppressed people). But when we re-Indigenize through our languages and cultures, we de-center the oppression dynamic and re-center something much healthier. It’s profound.

Q: What is the response to various strategies that suggest only working on language in the home vs. in the classroom?

A: Language matters everywhere. Learning a language as a first language is the best way to do it. But most people don’t have that luxury with endangered languages. For my tribe most of our speakers are elders. If we wait for it to start in the home it will never start. So we have to build schools and programs, and get intentional about learning and teaching. It’s the only way to save many of those languages.

How I did it, Chapter 3 Questions:

Q: Would you describe your time with Archie as similar to a master apprentice program and would you recommend it to other Natives?

A: Yes. I had a holistic immersion experience with him. He was a master and I did apprentice to him even though neither of us was paid. It was not a formal A-P model, but it served that function. And the fact that he was much better at Ojibwe than English and preferred that modality of communication really helped us with language discipline.

Q: How often did you attend classes and when did you find yourself using your language more outside of the classroom?

A: After college is when I really applied myself to language learning in a classroom space. I didn’t really wait until I had a certain aptitude and then start using it more. I tried to use everything I learned as I was learning it. The doing really amplified my learning.

Q: What activities and actions did you use the language with outside of the classroom? How did the language translate to real life?

A: We use Ojibwe for many kinds of ceremony. That was one of the major language-rich spaces where I was able to listen and learn more deeply. But I also did a lot of transcription work. And crawling inside the minds of some of our great speakers really helped me understand at another level.

Once again, we want to acknowledge our gratitude for both Carolann and Anton for taking time to share their important perspectives on Indigenous language work- it is soul work, and we are beyond appreciative of everything they do on a daily basis to contribute to their communities and their languages.

If you would like to support our work please consider a one-time or monthly donation, every penny goes towards helping provide language justice for Indigenous communities.

Upcoming Events: Register now for our St. Patrick's Day virtual event, "Decolonizing Our Language" celebrating our brilliant and diverse Irish panelists. Join us Friday, March 18th, from 5:30pm-6:30pm EST, see you there!

- The 7000 Languages Team

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