Letters: A Word about Native Languages

I enjoyed “Weight of the Words” [Spring 2009]. I wonder what happened to the Oneida Nation and its outstanding efforts to promote their native tongue in the nation’s child care [centers]. I recently observed such a child care center near the Green Bay airport going strong, as little ones happily shouted out in the Oneida language, identifying the differing pictures on a flip chart.

John Davey ’45
Kendall, Wisconsin

The fine article on the attempt to maintain the languages of Wisconsin’s Indian peoples left the Oneidas off the map on page 33. The Oneidas, with their reservation just southwest of Green Bay, were involved in a WPA project to record and save their language from 1938 to 1940. Then, as now, the University of Wisconsin was involved, as more than a dozen Oneida men and women were paid for eighteen months to record stories and accounts of their lives in their own language and then translate into English, with the assistance of linguistic anthropologists from Madison (Morris Swadesh and Floyd Lounsbury). These texts have been cherished and used by the Oneidas for learning and maintaining the language until today.

Herbert Lewis, Professor Emeritus
UW-Madison Department of Anthropology

I was pleased to read Jason Stein’s story of efforts to restore and preserve elements of Menominee indigenous culture. I was born and brought up in Menominee — the one in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The indigenous Menominees left their name to designate three cities, two counties, two rivers, a reservation, and a mountain range in Upper Michigan and Wisconsin. I was born in the city and county of Menominee on the Menominee River state line. There is also another Menominee River in Wisconsin, plus, of course, the Menominee Indian Reservation.

The Menominees, then, were obviously not a quaint, prehistoric scattering. They were a significant indigenous population, and their heritage should be more widely acknowledged than it has been through the twentieth century.

Robert Sollen ’48
Carpinteria, California

Published in the Summer 2009 issue

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