101 Comments
Oct 29, 2023Liked by Chris La Tray

When the kid with the Cannibal Corpse tee shirt walked out of the classroom after talking with you, that is the first time I have seen him smile all year.

That alone makes it worth it...

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Oct 28, 2023Liked by Chris La Tray

This was beautiful. I’m going to sit with what you said and read this again later.

I’m one of your newer subscribers, so forgive me if you’ve already addressed this: I’d love to hear the Anisinaabe words pronounced in a video or audio recording. I would love to learn how to say them properly in case I ever meet you in this world or some other. If this already exists, please point me to it!

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"It feels like life under genocidal occupation because it is."

Thank you for putting this out there, Chris. It often feels like that to me too but it's hard to talk about.

But back to the language discussion, if you speak American English — take heart! You already know dozens, maybe even hundreds, of Indigenous Turtle Island words. You can't even talk about the native plants and animals without speaking some Algonquian, for instance. Moose, caribou, raccoon, chipmunk, muskrat, persimmon, tamarack, squash, pecan, hickory, etc.

And that's just the tip of the ice burg for only one of the Indigenous language families that contributed to the flavor of English we currently speak. Maybe an additional way we can honor the languages of Turtle Island is to be mindful of all the Indigenous words we are already using?

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“the vast majority of Indigenous folks have few, if any, of their traditional language near to their tongue” I am going to quote you while I reprimand people who snidely reject colonialism as a singular event of the past. I’d like to ask them, if it was indeed an event confined to the past with no present impact, how do we explain the loss of native languages and the widespread expectation for everyone to speak English?

I have a deep appreciation for learning new words in different languages, always eager to learn and pronounce what you share. My motivation is not to merely conform to the peculiar cultural norm of token representation, but rather, it’s a way to show my gratitude for the rich tapestry of your ancestry and culture, which has gifted us with your presence. Miigwech 💜

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founding

I remember and appreciated every poet who came to my high school writing program! I still read a lot of their works today. You may be the spark for some of those students, even if you don't know it.

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Oct 28, 2023Liked by Chris La Tray

That Teddy Roosevelt quote is...something. Yeesh. I always hope that people who laud him (and Churchill, for that matter) for the good things they did (Russo-Japanese treaty, beating back the Nazis) are merely ignorant of the life-long attitudes such men expressed. It's the problem with "heroes"; they all have feet of clay. Better to make do without statues of men on horseback altogether.

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Great observations, Chris. I tend to feel the same about most Zen dudes (who in my experience are also some of angriest... It doesn't help that my uncle knew one of the most awful Buddhist white dudes ever, Ösel Tendzin.) Seeing through the veneer of the colonial culture is very revealing and I thank you for helping improve my eyes. I've been avoiding using Anishinaabe words because I feel like I'm appropriating or signaling that I'm enlightened somehow, but I use bonjour when I'm in France, so why shouldn't I use miigwech while I'm in North America?

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Oct 28, 2023Liked by Chris La Tray

This sends my mind in a lot of positive, productive directions, Chris. Thank you.

I taught high school for a long time. One of the toughest things to do: Don’t let their overt disinterest be confused with actual disinterest. I’d bet plenty that many of these youth were impacted in surprising ways.

I sure appreciate your notions about language. I recall driving to Malta from Bozeman to pheasant hunt many times over the years. I loved listening to the word of the day from KGVA 88.1 out of Ft. Belknap for White Clay and Nakoda languages. I think the station is out of the Aaniiih Nakoda College. Language sharing can be uplifting, joyful, and fun. When I participate, I’m mindful of my ignorance but also of the pleasure and trust in language sharing.

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Mahalo for this Chris. When I moved (back) to Hawaiʻi in 2005, I read something on an advice site, from another white settler, asserting that the only people who say "aloha" are newcomers, hotel receptionists and timeshare salespeople. That was confusing to me because the three people who had encouraged me to move when asked were all three born and raised here, one of them an activist and professor of Hawaiian epistemology, and they all not only started emails and conversations with "aloha" but had taught me additional words. So I asked, and their reply was pretty much what you just wrote: Donʻt you expect foreign visitors to learn "hello" and "thank you?" Now you moved to the kingdom of Hawaiʻi, and ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi is one of our legal languages, so it is a sign of respect for you to use the words you know, to learn place names, to learn to pronounce words properly - and to accept being corrected when you get it wrong or miss the nuance.

The other point that really hit home is one I try to catch myself on all the time - the difference between truly being haʻahaʻa (humble) and indulging in humble bragging. Like is humble bragging what I am doing in this comment? Maybe.

And then there are the times I have to figure out whether it is my place to speak up as an ally and when it is my place to just keep my mouth shut out of humility even when I "know" something. Like if I walk into that hotel with you, maybe I would roll my eyes if I knew we both shared the understanding. But would it be my place to try to educate someone who was oblivious? Or to catch the eye of a native-looking person and make a big assumption that we had a shared understanding?

These are the questions you ask all the time and for that I am grateful that you are writing and speaking your truth, and sharing it with a larger audience however uncomfortable it might make someone.

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I never thought about the taxidermy/portraits of natives connection!! That is SO true. I also love the “you know one word, you say it with pride” advice 💓 finally: the pledge of allegiance said every day is NEVER NOT WEIRD. “What?! We’re in the army/classroom now?” I effin hate it

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Oct 28, 2023Liked by Chris La Tray

The kids you're invited to speak to may not be listening, but in my experience some of the teachers are. Your words might be changing how they speak and think, and as their actions and language evolve, they're influencing students.

I bet you're educating the educators.

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Oct 28, 2023·edited Oct 28, 2023Liked by Chris La Tray

Thank you so much for this. I used to live in Spokane and when an event opened with a tribal welcome or greeting they always ended with a word that I heard as lemlemsh. I went searching and found a short video clip from the Salish School of Spokane with the pronunciations for the variations of the word, which means thank you (https://youtu.be/2FD6oKqcQBo?si=CSNolx2COGIrB5pk). I don't live in Spokane now but I occasionally get to hear someone speak who says that word and even though I'm white, it feels like being home again. I'd likely feel self-conscious saying it to a member of the tribe but I might try and then ask if that was acceptable, or ask first, to try to convey that I'm not seeking to co-opt someone else's language or culture but rather to honor it.

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I speak English. Can get by in Spanish. Learning Chinese on Duolingo. All languages of empires.

I’ve seen other indigenous people advocate for schools teaching the languages of the people whose land they sit on. Love this idea.

Went deep in a Wikipedia hole to figure out what language that would be for me. There were about 2,000 Susquahannock people living here in 1600. We kept their name for the river. Their population dwindled until the last few were murdered, along with their language, by a racist vigilante group in 1763.

I could learn Kanienʼkéha (Mohawk, farther north) or Cherokee (farther south), which are in the same Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) language family.

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Yeah. There's a whole lot here I would like to converse with and if I still have eye power by the end of my morning I will come back and do so. But my couldn't-be-whiter ears hear you and I appreciate and will ponder your thoughts on language. I have never felt certain of my "right" to speak Native languages, but I have an embattled relationship to English, also at least partially based in trauma I think, but different from yours in that the violence of Christian, patriarchal cis/heteronormative culture that they originate in is supposed to be my culture. To say I have a love/hate relationship with it is entirely too mild.

In 1995 my ex-partner-now-queer-next-of-kin and I drove through Montana and much of the rural West on a roadtrip anchored by National Parks and college towns. She is visibly Jewish; I was visibly gender undecidable, not yet transitioned but, like her, extremely thin and short-haired and dykey. Outside of those parks and college towns, we encountered a barely restrained violent hostility while trying to transact the simple business of hotel rooms and food. Having left the Deep South a few years before for Seattle, neither of us were surprised, precisely. The experience was nothing new. But I think I was especially impressed--like physiologically changed--by the vast depth and openness of the land--and its vulnerability--and the contrast it presented to the absolute denial of welcome we received from the people in it. I love this land. The white folks in it? Hate is not quite right. Incomprehension is not right either: I understand them too well. I cannot wash the white off even if it feels alien to me.

And I could keep going with this story because it just keeps going. For now: one touchstone for me is Paul Celan, a 20th Century Eastern European Jewish poet who survived the Holocaust and wrote in German because it was literally his mother tongue. His poetry can be read as "academic" and "difficult", but I don't think it has to be. He was not trying to be obscure: he was trying to wring violence out the language and connection back in, to rehabilitate what language can do when it is not taken up as a weapon. His work draws me in like a dark northern forest awash with light few can see.

He did die of suicide in 1971, but I am not sure that means he failed. That said, his work--and not just his--is certainly unfinished in Western culture.

And.. I need more coffee. For this:

miigwech

thank you

danke schön

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Oct 28, 2023Liked by Chris La Tray

You've inspired me (and clearly other readers) to learn five words.

Your classroom visit might not have yielded immediate fruit, but the seeds of the retelling are taking root in this community.

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Oct 28, 2023Liked by Chris La Tray

I treasure that July 4th post of yours and have made several people listen to it out loud.

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