But, like many of the three hundred and fifty indigenous languages of Americas, Potawatomi is threatened, and I speak the language you read. The powers of assimilation did their work as my chance of hearing that language and yours too, was washed from the mouths of Indian children in government boarding schools where speaking your native tongue was forbidden.
For me this hits home so deeply. I am a first generation Canadian, and growing up in Canada our parents were told to only speak English at home. Up until the time that I was home I only spoke my ancestral language. Then I went to school, and my parents spoke only English at home. My grandmother spoke our language, our mother tongue. She did not speak English. Through her, I maintained some connection to the language. However, as I grew, our gaps grew. Our language and the worlds in which we lived were very vastly differently. She came to Canada at the age of 56 and lived within the mosque and her home. By the time I was in my 30s she was in her 80s and senility was setting in.
I was struggling in a world where feminism understood empowerment as casual sex and sexual liberation. She came from a world of arranged marriages and then love marriages. Sex was not something spoken of. I straddled the expectations; wanting to be a good feminist, wanting to be someone my grandmother recognized.
The world changes us; and immigration [the result of colonial conquest] has created rifts as wide as the seas, within our own families, within our souls. We try so hard to walk ourselves back.
This struggle is the similar for all on the receiving end of colonialism. This feeling of grasping at straws. Of being language less. You may not have lost your mother tongue through boarding schools; but you surely lost your cultural moors through the pressure to assimilate. You too, my friend, are navigating your way home.
That is the struggle that indigenous people and people of colour in North America share. Colonization is long – it is expansive, and although it may have lasted 400 years – it has broken us from our past – and our recovery feels impossible.
Are we even fighting? Or have we given up?