By MONTY HILL
Language at odds with ourselves
February 19, 2016
We have heard it from settler governments: “if you no longer speak your language and no longer practice your culture, then you have no right to demand Aboriginal rights from us, because you are assimilated with the ruling power.” We have heard it from our own people, in that “the language embodies or carries with it the knowledge that English doesn’t properly describe in terms of who we are, or all of our culture.”
Today, original people and settlers alike consider language learning a means of reconnection with ourselves and our ancestors. We describe ourselves as healing from the trauma of the loss of this connection, as well as learning old knowledge. Our practice, language revitalization, in its very name, talks about a restoration of life: where there either is none, or there is very little.
If you can’t formulate an Indigenous thought, then do not bother learning the Indigenous language to express your non-Indigenous thoughts.
Regardless of however full our lives might be today, original people recognize ourselves as somehow incomplete within ourselves, lacking vital and sacred knowledges that were transmitted through the generations; this transmission was interrupted by the millions of small and large violences of colonization. We demand justice for the violence done unto us. We articulate the hundreds of ways in which we have experienced the loss, and the pain it causes, and our ability to contribute to human knowledge in order to advocate for our own justice. In attempting to petition settler governments for our survival, we have continuously and consciously framed our arguments in terms they understand.
At some point, we have failed to recognize that this justification (framing our arguments in their English terms and using their definitions) was an expedient means of ceasing the violence. We have thus unconsciously adopted these settler-colonial myths of language: the overt nationalistic ideology of language-as-identity, and a covert and certainly more dangerous ideology: that language exists outside of the people who speak it.
These two ideologies coalesce into the following paradox, related to us from a Māori elder: “There’s no point in learning [an Indigenous] language if you have nothing [Indigenous] to say.” We might rephrase it like this: if you can’t formulate an Indigenous thought, then do not bother learning the Indigenous language to express your non-Indigenous thoughts.
READ FULL ARTICLE: “Revitalizing Indigenous Language Is Key To Decolonization | Ricochet“. Ricochet. N. p., 2016. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.