This article has been on my mind for a few days now. I know that I need to say something about this, but how do I approach the subject of colonization as a white middle-class woman?
I’ll start with a little background (just in case you don’t have time to read the article.) A 7th grader (Miranda) was suspended from her Catholic school for speaking her native language, Menominee. Apparently a classmate asked Miranda how to say “hello” and “I love you” in Menominee and Miranda told her. One of her teachers declared that because she didn’t know what Miranda was saying, it must be bad and she deserved suspension.
Several days prior to seeing this article we were talking about the effects of European colonization of America in one of my classes. In particular, one of our readings discussed Two Spirit individuals that have roles in multiple Native American cultures. Prior to European colonization Two Spirit people were respected within the community, preforming special roles, etc. However, following the European brutalization of the native people of this continent these roles were lost. As we forced them into our idea of a civilized society their culture was lost. As native peoples have tried to rebuild, Two Spirit people have had serious trouble integrating back into the community. Part of this is due to a language barrier. Prior to colonization, there was more than a gender binary. The Navajo nation had as many as five (5) gender identities within their communities. Limiting these individuals to a binary is a gross misrepresentation of the role they actually played prior to our brutal removal of their culture.
What does Miranda have to do with this? As we try to evolve to a better place, a place where everyone is accepted for who they are, we need to be more accepting. We need to work to show that we respect the cultures of many. It is critical that we show we are not our ancestors in this aspect; That we will not take children away from their parents and destroy their language.
And if you say, “If you live in this country you have to speak our language,” remember that English did not originate here. Maybe the battle cry should be “If you want to live here you have to speak Menominee.”