Saturday, June 04, 2022

Centering and Featuring Native Languages

In 2007 I saw a graphic that--at the time--I felt was terrific. I shared it everywhere. Created by the Tulsa City-County Library, it had the word 'read' in the center. Around it was the word 'read' in several different Native languages. 

Then last week, I watched a video of Dawn Quigley and Joaquin Munoz, speaking at the Indigenous Teacher Education Program at the University of Arizona, College of Education. Most of you know Dawn as a Native author, but she's also a professor. Click through and listen to the entire lecture. Professors Quigley and Munoz have terrific information to share! In his remarks, Munoz talks a bit about Cherie Dimaline's The Marrow Thieves. He's co-author on an excellent article you can download about her book: Ni keehtwawmi mooshahkinitounawn: Lifting Up Representations of Indigenous Education and Futures in The Marrow Thieves

In one portion of her remarks, Dawn talked about having a critical lens. That is what AICL is about: bringing a critical lens to the ways that Native peoples, cultures, languages, stories and songs are represented. 

Dawn closed her presentation by sharing the 'read' graphic and saying that "the English word 'read' should not be in the middle." Just before that, she said it is an amazing graphic. It is! I love seeing Native languages. I am guessing that she--like me and so many others--think Native languages should be more visible. And, she's right to say that the English word should not be in the middle! If we want to center our languages, we have to bring that critical lens to the 'read' graphic. 

So--here's my decentering of that graphic. I put the Tewa word for 'read' in the center (Tewa is the language we speak at Nambé). [Update on June 17th: Sue Anderson from the Tulsa City-County Library wrote to say "We are happy to give permission for others to use this image, provided they credit the Tulsa City-County Library and leave our tagline on the graphic."]


Earlier this year when signing bookplates for An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, for Young People I wrote our word and my Tewa name on the top half of the bookplate, and on the bottom half, I wrote 'read' and signed 'Debbie Reese.' (If you happen to have one of those, could you please take a photo of it and send it to me? I didn't take a photo of the bookplates before sending them on to Minnesota for their Indian Education conference.)

Adding on June 6th, a photo of the bookplate! 
Kú'daa, Odia Wood-Krueger, for the photo!




Related to how Native languages are treated in books, we wrote about that in An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, for Young People. In our "A Note To Readers," we said:
For a long time, textbooks and other print media have put non-English words in italics. Setting words apart in that way signals that English is the normal way to speak and write and other languages are “different.” But many people now see this use of italics as a way of “othering” languages and the people who speak them. We are strong advocates for the shift away from italics. You will not see Native words in italics in this book.
When you read Dawn's books, you'll see that she does not italicize Ojibwe words her characters use, except when she's explaining a word to the reader. Look at this passage on page 3 of Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend when Jo Jo is on her way to school:
Mama usually walks with me, but today my kokum was going to. Kokum is another way to say "grandma" in the Michif language. She moved in with us after my moushoom died last year. 
A page earlier, we learned from Jo Jo that moushoom is their word for grandpa. When you read Eric Gansworth's books, you'll see that he used italics--for German words--in If I Ever Get Out of Here. Here's a passage from page 13 where his main character, Lewis, is visiting George, a white boy that Lewis is becoming friends with. Lewis loves music and is looking at albums on the shelves at George's house (p. 14):
"You like the Beatles?" I said. "We had pretty much all of their albums, but when my brother moved out, he took most of the later ones with him."

"We have them all," George said. "My dad's a huge Beatles fan. When we lived in Germany, he took me down to the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, because that's where they got their start. My Mutti about busted a blood vessel." 

"'Mutti'?"

"Sorry, German, it's like 'mom.'"

And when you read Brian Young's Healer of the Water Monster, you'll see he uses Navajo words for numerals in the chapter titles: 


These are definitely signifiers of change in children's book publishing! In my lectures and workshops, I encourage teachers to modify texts they use with students in their classrooms. I encourage them to give students reasons for the modifications and I also recommend they make modifications in front of students so that students can learn that books are not sacred. Words in them can be crossed out, and new ones inserted or added somehow to visually signify a shift. With my modification of the 'read' graphic, I'm decentering English. Said another way, I'm centering or featuring Tewa. 

I'm going to write to the staff at Tulsa City-County Library to let them know of my modification and ask if they might let us all use their original graphic, overlaying 'read' with a Native language -- either our own or one spoken by the people a library's homelands are located on. You can also make your own large poster and ask Native people in your service area how they say 'read' in their language. 

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