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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 23, 2002 - Issue 55


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Tribe to Revive Nearly Lost Language


MASHANTUCKET -- For 364 years, the Pequot language has been lying dormant, the result of the 1638 Treaty of Hartford that forbade tribal members from speaking their language.

But the language is not extinct, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Councilor Charlene Jones said. "I believe it needs the breath of life in order to live and thrive like the community is thriving today," she said.

To do this, Jones and the tribal nation's Historical and Cultural Preservation Committee are hosting "Revitalizing the Algonquian Languages," a conference that will feature a number of respected scholars.

The conference is set to take place at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center Friday and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Only fragments of the Pequot language remain. The language spoken in the museum's exhibits actually is Passamaquoddy, which is similar.

Wayne Newell, Dr. Blair Rudes, Dr. Kathleen Bragdon and Jessie Little Doe Fermino will focus on the importance of native languages and the challenge faced as Indian communities try to revitalize endangered and dormant languages.

Other noted linguists will present their language reclamation projects. Most of the linguists work with native languages of the northeastern United States.

"Native languages are a vital and intricate part of native culture," Jones said. "When a language is translated, much is lost of the original meaning."

Jones said the Treaty of 1638 compromised the values and lessons at the heart of American Indian culture. With translation, many of the values and lessons also are lost.

The conference will bring scholars, researchers, linguists and community leaders together in one place, all focusing on revitalization efforts.

Jones said it is important to have tribal members fluent in the language. Reviving the Pequot language has been a goal of the tribe since Foxwoods opened 10 years ago.

"It is my hope that during my lifetime, not only are tribal members using native language for ceremonies and special events, but that our children become fluent speakers so that our language can continue to thrive into the future for generations to come," Jones said.

Some of the topics to be discussed at the conference are strategic planning for language, Passamaquoddy language program, revitalizing severely endangered languages, issues facing tribes without a fluent speaker, today's technology in language revitalization, Montauk language and the Wampanoag language project.

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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