Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)

Wub-e-ke-niew's drivers licence photo

February 12, 1987

[Lincoln, a.k.a. “Honest Abe’s” Birthday]

The Bemidji Pioneer
Bemidji, MN 56601

To the Editor:

In today’s Bemidji Pioneer, Brad Swenson wrote an opinion about making English the “official language” of the State of Minnesota.

“English First” is one of the amply funded organizations behind the “English as the ‘official language’” movement.  Many of the early backers of “English First” are Texans, where legislators hope to accomplish by law what they could not do otherwise—to intensify discrimination against Spanish-speaking Texans (who were there before English-speakers even knew there was such a place).

“English first” opens even deeper questions, also.  However improved the “English” language might have been by the addition of Native American words and concepts it is (along with French, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, Greek, etc.) foreign to this continent.  Not “first.”  Foreign.  If you want to legislate “English first,” you are going to have to re-name virtually every city, county, town and state on the continent.  (What about potatoes?  What about canoes?  What are you going to name the city of Bemidji? Just “Crime Capitol?”)

If English is virtually the only language spoken here now, it is because it was forced on speakers of other, beautiful and expressive, languages like Ojibway.  Not (as so many liberal “Americans” excuse themselves) “a hundred years ago, so it’s not my fault,” but up until 1945 on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, Ojibway people were physically beaten by employees for speaking our native language.  (In some places, this still goes on.)

Red Lake Indian people fought, and some of our people died, in World War I, World War II, in Korea, in Vietnam.  For “freedom.”

The U.S.A. (Union of South Africa) has an official language (Afrikaans) which is forcibly “first” over the Black African languages which belong to that land.  Perhaps legislating “English first” in this U.S.A. (United States of America) is a good thing, and would be even better if the law had “teeth”—90 days or $500 for speaking any other language; with rewards for anybody who turns in violators.  You could even have an 800 number called “forked-tongue speaking” where people could call in and anonymously accuse their neighbors and enemies of speaking “foreign” languages—like Ojibway.  (And when you write up the laws, double the fine if a person is caught speaking their own native language, be it Norwegian, Swedish, Ojibway or Vietnamese.)

To the Red Lake Indian people, English is also a “boat peoples’ language.”  Our old chiefs who signed the treaties told us that English is a language of lies.  ... [text missing] ... (“friend” of the Indians) used English to tell lies in the name of the United States Government, and they spoke English when they swore on the Bible to uphold the treaties (a premeditated lie).  The White man has been using his imported language to tell lies ever since.

I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically approve of “English first.”  At least your racism and intolerance is right out in the open where the whole world can see it.

Mee gwitch,

Francis Blake
Member, Red Lake Anishinabe Ojibway People

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