Chi migwetch, thank you! What a wonderful discussion of language and meaning. I am a Native woman, mother, wife, and storyteller. I have long pondered the question of the connection between culture and language. How do they influence and inform each other? People who have lived for thousands of years in an arid, desert climate will by default develop language with completely different references, nuances, stories, and expressions of spirituality than those who live in an arctic or woodlands region. I believe that our stories are a kind of living energy that yearn to be told, and they wait for us to come along; we who will give them voice. What happens to those stories when they cannot be told in the language in which they were created? What is lost 'in translation'? Our stories, songs, and prayers contain deeply significant teachings that are subtly layered so that they unfold in accordance with each listener's path, experience, and desire to understand. So often, I have told a story-one that I have told many times-and I am struck with that "aha" moment; some previously unrecognized lesson is illuminated for me. I do programs for a wide variety of audiences, and it has been such a challenge to try to retain the essence of the stories while making them acceptable to audiences that are primarily non-Native. Traditional stories often involve scatological humor, death, sexuality...all of which are unacceptable in mainstream (non-Native) school programs, libraries, scout troops, etc. Krista speculated as to whether or not the loss of languages is a natural process and part of progress, technology, and a more unified world. I believe that the loss of languages is a consequence of cultural imperialism. Forbidding the use of native language is an effective means of wiping out indigenous culture. There is a deeper subtext to this process. Words are powerful and ancient, and they contain the knowledge and wisdom of a people. If you take away my language, in a way you take away my history, my foundation, my connection with my ancestors, my deepest identity.
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