Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)


Wub-e-ke-niew and Harvey Sarles
Wub-e-ke-niew with Harvey Sarles in his office at the University of Minnesota

Six Questions About Language
from Wub-e-ke-niew to Dr. Harvey Sarles

1) If you destroy the language, you destroy the culture.  What is culture comprised of?

2) If you destroy the language, do you destroy the people?  Do the people go extinct?

3) Why do you want to destroy the language and culture of any people to begin with?  What benefit is it to you (plural) to do this?  What are your (plural) motives?

4) The Western European culture and language have no respect or manners for other people, including themselves.  Why doesn’t it have manners or respect?  They invaded this land, and remain here.

5) After all of these years, when they said they wanted to destroy the Indians (implying that the Indigenous people were Indians), saying, “they will not live amongst us,” now, all of a sudden, they are promoting the Indians.  Why are they promoting them?  They are teaching Chippewa in the schools, but they are not teaching it in the homes.  They are teaching it with White teachers and wanna-be’s.  I would like to know who is an Indian, and why is he here?  Indian is a foreign language, a foreign term.  What do they mean by Indian languages?  From India?  They are being very vague.  They need to explain themselves.  I want to know, and nobody tells me.  I have been asking this question, and nobody answers me.

6) The indigenous language and Chippewa are two very different languages.  Why are the distinctions being blurred?


(Interesting Quotations about Language)


As Mr. Townsend, a Métis student of the Carlisle Indian School, told the Lake Mohonk policy-makers:

     I believe in education, because I believe it will kill the Indian that is in me, and leave the man and the citizen. ... I believe in the Indian learning the English language: one people, one language, that is my idea.  I contradict the statement that the only good Indian is a dead Indian.  The only good Indian is an educated Indian.


The missionaries’ pious linguistic and social engineering was   intentional:

      ... The experience of the missionary societies the world over is that, beginning with the conscience and hearts of men, they must be reached through the language which they spoke in their childhood.  Hence the first thing the missionary does in going to a pagan people is to get hold of their language, to reduce it to writing and make a vocabu­lary and then put in it some portion of the word of God.  That is the missionary rule the world over. ...  Quite a number of languages have been enriched with portions of the word of God.


In 1887, General Whittlesey said:

     ... The reasons for desiring the Indians taught in the English language are so self-evident and apparent that it was supposed every friend of Indian education would gladly co-operate with the government in the good work.  ... These Indians ought to be English-speaking Indians to-day.  The Seneca language should be a dead language to-day, just as much as the language in which the Elliot Bible was printed has become a dead language.  There should not be a tribe of Indians that had to be addressed in the native tongue after sixty years of missionary work.  Judge Draper told us the other day that the majority still speak their own dialect and hold to their traditions and superstitions in the State of New York.  ... We have heard it said in this room that we do not want to raise any more Indians; we shall keep it up, as long as we keep teaching them their own language.  ... They have found that the way to educate and civilize is to teach them English, so we shall find it all over the country.


In 1888, the Reverend Lyman Abbott said:

     ... The impalpable walls of language are more impenetrable than walls of stone. ... If the Government were at once to assume the entire work of educating the Indian children of school age in the United States, and of compelling them to attend the schools, and of furnishing them thereat with sufficient knowledge of the English language, the methods of industry and the moral laws to fit them for civilized life, the churches ... could bend their energies to the twofold work of the higher ethical and spiritual culture of the Indians ...



And, in 1890:

     As to the subjects taught, there must, in the first in­stance, be the English language, which should be required of every pupil.  Their own tongues tend to narrow the intel­lect, and are not fitted to impart and express the ideas which expand the mind and excite higher aspirations.  ...


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