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Preserving our Mother Tongues Online

©2015 K. Whitney


Overview    -    Importance     -     Obstacles     -     Success Stories     -     Recommendations    -    Research Resources

Linguists contend that language diversity is as important to our systems of knowledge as biological diversity is to our ecology. The Ojibwe language is a place where its people turn for philosophy, history, science, medicines, stories and spirituality
"U of MN American Indian Studies Department Launches Online Ojibwe Dictionary"
News from Indian Country
Man Looking Out to the Mountains

Importance of Preservation

Why is it important to preserve our mother tongues?
  • Sovereignty is more than thinking independently, but also maintaining one's own way of "knowing"--a sort of mental sovereignty (Cruz 2).

  • Within globalization, it is important for one to be "glocal": grounding oneself locally, but understanding global interrelations (Cruz 3).

  • Cruz also points out that the U.S. Supreme Court has misunderstood native legal traditions, though those traditions preceded U.S. common law (6-7). Effective understanding of our own traditions would lend to our own defense in the face of hegemonic misinterpretations.

What if we let our native languages disappear?
  • Our Indian nations may cease to be recognized by the United States, resulting in loss of services (Benton).

  • We lose access to our customary laws that were originally set out in our original languages (United Nations).

In 1834 the Commissioner of Indian Affairs described the then status of Indian criminal systems: "With the exception of two or three tribes, who have within a few years past attempted to establish some few laws and regulations among themselves, the Indian tribes are without laws, and the chiefs without much authority to exercise any restraint."


 Oliphant v. Suquamish (1978)

The Supreme Court's mischaracterization of indigenous legal tradition was crucial in delivering a blow to native sovereignty when they ruled against the Suquamish Indian Tribe (Cruz 6-7). Could it have been prevented with a better representation of indigenous speakers to define the traditional laws the preceded Euro-American intervention?

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