Colonization changed language and culture for the original peoples of Turtle Island.
“For a nation of people, with their language threading throughout the various components of their society, what exudes from that nation is its overall culture—its way of doing things, its way of seeing the world (worldview), its way of believing, its values. As a result, when the nation experiences a ‘shift’ in its language by the interjection of another language, the original culture is correspondingly interrupted and skewed towards a new way of doing things, seeing things, and believing,” wrote Bonnie Jane Maracle for ICTMN.
Below are 16 quotes that remind us how important both language and culture are:
“When you lose a language and a language goes extinct, it’s like dropping a bomb on the Louvre.
“Those of us who are Native, Asian, Hispanic or African American, we have been taught white studies since we were in the first grade. The only way to develop a stronger, better country is if we know ourselves.”
—Wayne J. Stein of Montana State University
“There are lots of people who are poor and forgotten. We need to remember the elders and what they’ve done for us. We want them to know that we appreciate them.”
—Thomas Mentzer, Hopi High teacher
“There is still a legacy from boarding schools. All the way from a lack of parenting to feelings of oppression, to say nothing of the loss of language and culture.”
—Carmen Taylor, executive director of the National Indian School Board Association
“Generations have struggled to learn, despite efforts to eliminate our traditions and language. Having a strong sense of yourself and your community is a great foundation for learning.”
—Agnes Chavis, Lumbee
“In school, I learned that my people were savages. But now I see I come from people who were beautiful and intelligent. I see the sacredness of being Indian.”
—Carol Welsh, Sisseton-Wahpeton
“Losing a language is a major setback for everyone, because along with the language, you will also lose all of the poems, the stories, the songs. And those things are of immense importance to all of us as human beings.”
“The language, the whole culture of the Lakota, comes from the song of our heartbeat. It’s not something that can quickly be put into words. It’s a feeling, it’s a prayer, it’s a thought, it’s an emotion—all of these things are in the language.”
—Larry Swalley, Lakota
“It’s important to not just be involved in your culture and what goes on in your world. It’s good to see other cultures and what you’re not used to.
—Shawna Gutierrez, 15
“People need to understand who we are today, and the struggles we’ve had to go through just to remain who we are, just to live our culture. We’re part of mainstream America but we still have to live in two lives.”
—Chief Steve Adkins, Chickahominy
“We want to be able to teach these ceremonies to our youths so they continue with them because, if we don’t, little by little they will fade away.”
—Gov. Carlos Hisa, Tigua
“The old people must start talking and the young people must start listening.”
—Thomas Banyacya, Hopi
“Losing the language means losing the culture. We need to know who we are because it makes a difference in who our children are.”
“The most important thing to me is to teach the children, so that our culture never dies.”
—Blackhawk SanCarlos, Mohawk and Apache
“You’ve got to know your language to understand your culture.”
—Beatrice Taylor, Ojibwe