Wednesday, February 14, 2018

NAHM 2017 - Language and family and worth

"Honestly, I'd love your father more if he could speak Cree. A lot more."

-- Nobody Cries At Bingo, Dawn Dumont, p. 270

I read that at about the same time that we were talking about language and residential schools in one of the classes, so I shared it in the discussion forums.

There are a lot of ways in which the forums can be inefficient for facilitating communication, but this struck a chord with at least one other student, and we did think about that. Why? Why would it mean more love?

I know nothing about the Cree language, but I do know there are languages that are better for humor, or at least some types of humor, or for intimacy. One of Anna Karenina's complaints was that her husband always spoke Russian instead of French, and because there was no "we", it made their communications more distant.

(I know nothing about Russian either, so I am going to have to trust Tolstoy on that.)

It could be that Cree had such strong family connotations for Dawn's mother that there was always something that seemed wrong about not being able to share it with her husband.

It's not like the relationship didn't have other problems, and that the abuse of the schools went far beyond the native language suppression, leading to many other problems. I am running late today and that should probably be another post.

I'm going to hint at it thought, with one other story of abuse, from a man who was sexually abused by a nun when he was a student. After she was done, she told him that was all he was good for.

I am sure a belief in the worthlessness of the students made abusing them easier. I am equally sure that abusing them reinforced their worthlessness in the minds of the abusers, and in the abused. The disrespect for the language was just a part of the overall contempt for the people and culture.

With thinking all of that, then I think any respect that you show the culture can reverberate into other parts.

So when we went into that classroom one hour a week and worked on Lao with one small girl, I hope what it told her was that her language mattered and she mattered and her parents mattered. Being able to talk to other Lao people mattered, and it was worth working for.

I hope for the high school students taking Lao, that it reinforced that they and their families were valuable and that there were things worth holding onto.

And I hope that as people work to revive different native languages, and create language nests that they will find effective teaching methods, and that it will build esteem. I hope ties between generations are strengthened.

I believe in their worth.

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