Languages of Oppression: New and Continued Colonization, Patriarchy and Indigenous Resistance within the Western Globalism of Sociolinguistics

Understanding Intersections and Recognizing Personal Relationality

Language, historically, since contact, has been used to colonize, disenfranchise, and/or oppress groups, especially Indigenous and displaced communities. It has not solely made these implications during the “Exploration” or Columbus’ Discovery Era of the late fifteenth center and early sixteenth century, but continues to occur throughout more contemporary interactions both directly and indirectly. Language, being an interpretation of reality amongst individuals that practice them, can hold diverse narratives of history, both amongst different Indigenous nations, and their interactions with colonizing nations. Language can be used as a tool to colonize Indigenous structures by multiple methodologies. It can be used as a vessel of patriarchy to change and interrupt frameworks of relationships, identities and epistemologies within Indigenous ways of life. Considering the previously stated factors and elements that state language interacts with society, it reiterates why I have chosen my focus of linguistic studies to be in Sociolinguistics and how it intersects with societies than the general technical constructs of linguistics. “As with the preceding linguistic interpretations, ideology plays a major role in the way in which people from different backgrounds view past (and present) social practices that are racially divisive in global terms.” As mentioned by Baugh when researching Colonizing (Afrikaans and English) Linguistics and interactions with Indigenous Linguistics of South Africa. With that being said, adaptation, resistance, and Indigenous values can be incorporated to adjust the lens normatively used in the discourse of globalism from Western to an Indigenous lens.

In this paper, I will be discussing many facets of language and how it interacts with Indigenous people, whether they are currently visible in efforts of self-determination, became silenced by colonizing acts of genocide, or are displaced and still reconnecting a closeness with ancestral land and knowledge. Very notably, I would like to acknowledge how loss of feminine influence between relationships within Indigenous communities are stemmed from patriarchal influences within colonizing languages and the methods in which colonizing languages are enforced. My methods of collecting data are through articles, biographical literature from Indigenous-identified women, interviews with my family and very importantly, my observations and interactions recorded during my journeys to Juneau, Alaska; Ketchikan, Alaska; Vancouver, British Columbia; Nanaimo, British Columbia; Alert Bay, British Columbia; Bella Bella, British Columbia; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Johannesburg, South Africa; Durban, South Africa; and Zululand, South Africa over the summer of 2014.  My trips to Alaska were primarily to attend a gathering of the three Southeast Alaskan Native Nations, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian that is held bi-annually called Celebration. I spent time gathering with family members and eventually traveling with a relative to learn how to weave and reconnect my relationship with the natural world that I am ancestrally from; Southeast Alaska. In British Columbia, I participated in an annual coastal, inter-tribal canoe trip called Tribal Canoe Journeys, paddling with Mowachaht/Nuu-Chaa-Nault relatives to the final landing of Bella Bella. In South Africa, I ended my summer with a focus on studying sociolinguistics and how it correlates with education, society and human rights. I will discuss much of these trips in further detail and why they were important to observe and record.

Before sharing my season-long research and discourse, I will share who I am and how my identity establishes specific ethics in my research and relationships with communities I am interacting with. I identify as a multi-ethnic women. My father’s ancestral identity is the Lukw’naaxh’aadi (Coho/Raven) clan of Xhuna Aani (Hoonah village), Alaska. Because this is a matrilineal tribe, I was adopted into a clan that is his opposite, Chookaaneidi (Glacier Bear/Eagle) clan from the same village. My mother is from multiple bands of the Iroquois Nation; Mohawk, Seneca and Stockbridge. We identify as the Bear clan in the Mohawk territories. At birth, I was given the Mohawk name Eaonhanweinen. Our family has been relocated to the New Amsterdam Reservation of New York. My mother is also Creole-Caribbean from Montserrat Island, mixed with Black African (Most likely originating from Sierra Leone), Arawak Caribbean Indigenous and Irish. Our Irish intermixing is why my last name is “Allen.” I grew up as an “Urban Indian” in South Seattle, raised with a Western education, very distant from my external family and access to traditional knowledge for the greater part of my life. When I turned 20, I became very active in Civil Rights, connected with many local Native activists and was forwarded towards individuals and resources that established and connected me with my Indigenous Identity. Although I am tribally enrolled as Tlingit, I cannot solely recognize myself as Tlingit Alaskan Native because that identity would not acknowledge the matrilineal protocols of my mother. Because my mother is multiethnic, I identify that much of her ethnic makeup is from displaced as well as recognized Indigenous roots. This is why Indigenous is the only English word that can depict who I embody without limiting or excluding my multifaceted ethnic, national, intersecting and diverse identities. When travelling and observing ethnic groups, communities and nations, I do so as an Indigenous person. Therefore, I hold myself accountable for ensuring that all experiences and information shared is respectably shared correctly with consent from the proper individuals and communities.

It’s notable that I took much time learning Indigenous as well as Colonizing languages of the places I ventured. Not just the syntax, phonetics or dialects but the epistemology, philosophy and sociolinguistics of the language, primary focused in relation to the places and their history. During the summer, I learned basics of Nuu-Chaa-Naulth, Kwakw’ala, Lingit (Tlingit), Xhaadaa (Haida), Tsimshian, Helsuik (Bella Bella), isiZulu (Zulu), isiXhosa (Xhosa), Afrikaans, Spanish and various dialects of English. I have studied how these languages interact historically, academically, politically, socially, economically, and spiritually and will be incorporating much of this in my studies as well.

Oppression in Diverse Narrations

Diversity of experiences and narrations of colonization through language is highly important to incorporate when interacting with multiple Indigenous Nations. Not all colonized and oppressed groups share similar narratives. Many communities throughout this world were effected in different aspects by contact with outsiders, whether through gender inequalities in Patriarchal power structures, methodologies of colonizing or oppressing Indigenous communities, philosophically changing the protocols and relationships of societies, displacing Indigenous people from ancestral lands, or dehumanizing specific groups of Indigenous communities or completely dehumanizing an entire community.

Under the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, Genocide is defined as:

…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

        (a) Killing members of the group;

        (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

        (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

        (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.2

Although many Indigenous nations, globally, have experienced almost all forms of genocide, not all have experienced genocide in the same experiences and methods. During my travels, I have learned that there have been diverse experiences of warfare, displacement, segregation and assimilation.

Being from an Alaskan Native tribe, there were many accounts of my tribe successfully remaining undefeated by the Russian Nation.3 Indigenous nations did not experience some of the same tragedies in Tlingit villages as what was experienced in the Coast Salish communities in terms of warfare and massacres. Whereas, the Coast Salish experienced executions of chiefs such as Chief Leschi.4

During my adventure in South Africa, I learned of several events in which the Dutch “Boers” and English interacted both violently and peacefully with Indigenous nations in South Africa. With narratives being vastly diverse of North America, resistance of colonial forces were very physical, leaving communities such as the Zulu tribes coming together to form a kingdom that reinforces their identity and domination of territories. The mining of raw materials highly valued in Euro-Centric commerce created interests in economic development throughout South Africa, growing into the recent history of oppression throughout the Apartheid Era.5 Apartheid is an experience unique to South African Indigenous Blacks. When understanding Apartheid, the root of the word is Dutch, meaning to segregate or discriminate groups by their racial identity.6 Those who identified as Black or Indigenous to South African tribes, were forced into urban reserves, similarly to Indigenous North Americans. These reserves, more formally called Townships, were primarily for the families (women and children) of the men that commuted close by to mines throughout the week or even month. Although Blacks were not the only labored workers in the mines, it was a belief that Blacks should be living in confinement mining camps to prevent thefts. In actuality, Mesthrie states that Whites were majority of groups to steal raw materials such as diamonds and gold, the mine companies believed that Blacks were most likely the culprits. Townships were the only areas were Blacks were allowed to gather and occupy under a close eye. All other spaces Blacks were allowed to be would have to be indicated in their Green Pass, an identification booklet that stated their racially assigned identity, their township residence and the places they had permission to travel to outside of the townships for work. Blacks did not have citizenship in their own ancestral land of South Africa. Only Whites and several “Coloured”(Black and White mixed-race) people had permission to travel legally.

Genocide and colonization had surprisingly similar and oppressive challenges as well as responses during the Apartheid in comparison to North America. One of the methods of colonization that had been widely differentiated many philosophical concepts to the Apartheid was Assimilation7. Assimilation is a method widely enforced specifically through education as well. A large difference can be seen in how the education had been given and why education of “English Only” institutions were forced on Indigenous children. This was because the colonizing forces that governed the United States and Canada believed that the physical inhalation of Indigenous nations no longer was an option to solve the “Indian Problem.” Wars amongst the Indigenous created more divide amongst European Americans and cost many of their own lives and money in result. The new approach to eliminate Indigenous people was to “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.”8 Assimilate Indigenous children to a white identity by separating them from their families and land and placing them in a boarding school or residential school for the majority of the year to condition them to practicing Christian beliefs, using militant forms of discipline and most importantly speaking English as the medium of communicating and thinking. Rather than separating language to racialized groups as was done in South Africa, assimilation forced all groups to speak and practice the same traditions to easily accept colonial powers and society as a normative practice.

Education within Oppressive Institutions

With the Euro-centric ideology of boarding and residential schools being stated and incorporating many decades and several other tragedies throughout the world, not just in the United States, led the inspiration of necessary documents that prevented genocides. To understand how these can be translated to legal language as genocidal acts, I will start with the studies made in North America. Being from a tribe on my father’s side that occurred more recently and dramatically by physical and psychological forms of oppression, this is something I continue to dedicate my life toward researching.

Attempts of genocide that are unique to the United States and Canada come from interests to Assimilate Indigenous families and specifically Indigenous children through education. The intersections of b and e in the stated acts of genocide, are factors that I have experienced the strongest personal pain and suffering from. Much of this is due to the Boarding Schools or Residential School traumas throughout the United States and Canada. My father, in fact, was in the Mount Edgecumbe Boarding School in Sitka, Alaska from 3 to 13 years of age. As he remained in this school, he discovered that during age 7, both of his parents had passed away, making him an orphan without any parental guidance outside of the school at a very early age. His experience was not unique in a sense that he and many students attending experienced violence in the form of verbal, physical and most violently, sexual abuse. Although after several years, many Alaskan Native Families were able to pay their children’s way out of these schools due to their successes in the fishing and hunting industry’s economic boom at that time. Due my father and his siblings becoming orphans, there were not as economically successful. During my last visit to Juneau, Alaska, I interviewed the experience that my late uncle, who was still living at that time, had told me about growing up in the boarding school with my father.

Me: “How was going to Mount Edgecumbe like for you and my father?”

UNCLE: “Well, your father was not as fortunate as us, although many of us were not fortunate in the first place. He was an orphan at an early age. We were all taken from our parents and put into that school, but eventually my parents and a lot of your other uncles and aunties were taken out of there cause our parents gave the government a lot of money that they made from fishing and hunting. He was still so little when his cousins [we] left that school. We used to enroll ourselves back and convince him to escape because he was too scared to do so on his own. Eventually, we stopped coming back because we had to work and didn’t want to get beat no more. We got beat a lot for speaking Lingit. We got beat for singing. We got beat for eating Salmon and Herring Eggs and even the berries we found outside. I remember they brought in foreign foods. I had bananas for the first time in that school. We got stripped down when we talked back. Some of the littler ones even got molested. I can’t say if your dad did or not but I know he was very troubled growing up because he was raised in that school. I know this cause when him and his siblings got out of that school for good, our parents didn’t want us around them. They didn’t want to raise troubled kids and they wouldn’t let us play with them. That’s probably why he wasn’t really in your life. He probably was afraid of hurting you. He don’t know what a father looks like. He don’t know how to be one.”9

I have grown to forgive my father’s dysfunctional relationship with my mother, his alcoholism and even his absence in my life, but I seems almost impossible to forgive the system that taught him to forget our language; the system that taught him not to practice our spiritual beliefs and that violence and fear is discipline and love. Because of this, I have a father who is too afraid to find comfort in a healthy relationships because he has been conditioned to hate his Indigenous Identity. This is one of the many stories of Boarding School trauma and post-traumatic stress. Velma Wallis explains another boarding school experience from the Alaskan Native narrative, “They [the Missionaries] spent many hours preaching, spanking, teaching, spanking, until the villagers learned that being Gwich’in was not a good thing…. The coming of western culture did much to eliminate the Native lifestyle (36).”10

The irony within much of these experiences resulted in many students not only losing their Indigenous languages, losing relationships to their family members that do not know how to communicate in English, but in the board school survivors were not receiving a proficient education in English or provided equal economic accessibility in comparison to White Americans and Canadians. These Indigenous children were taught to be domestic and labor workers, creating a glass ceiling in the capacity in which they could succeed and be considered equal in relation to White children taught in White educational institutions.

A report on Indian education issued in 1928 revealed glaring deficiencies in the boarding schools, including poor diet, overcrowding, below-standard medical service, excessive labor by the students and substandard teaching. The 1930s witnessed many changes in federal Indian policy, among which was a shift in educational philosophy…. States assumed more control over Indian education as more children enrolled in public schools.8

Another irony that has been one of the largest disappointments in the post-boarding school nation of the United States, is that the US has yet to include Boarding Schools as a event in American history discourse, let alone how damaging and traumatic the narratives have been to Native peoples. In light of this, Canada has written a formal apology to Aboriginal or Indigenous Nations, including an apology to Residential School survivors for the amount of violence and oppression that had been placed in communities forcibly. An apology is a start to a long-term commitment that needs to be placed in order to heal inter-generational colonial damage.

Generations of Historical Trauma and Violence

The wake of traumatic acts such as Boarding or Residential Schools has not only effected those individuals from Indigenous communities that attended the schools, first-hand, but the generations and the relationships those generations have with themselves, their families and in society.

Beverly Jacobs responds to Canada’s formal apology to Residential School Survivors as well as the impacts Residential schools have made to the next generations and Indigenous elements of identity in a speech she had presented on behalf of the Native Women’s Association of Canada:

I reflected and reviewed my matrilineal family and the affects that these abuses had on my mother, her siblings and their families….. I began to understand how much was stolen from my matriarchal family as a result of my grandmother attending the Mush Hole [residential school]. It became a reality that our traditional form of educating our children through language and traditional teachings that were supposed to be taught to us by our grandmother was stolen from her; her language was sexually beaten from her and her spirit was beaten by a system designed to destroy her. She was a Mohawk girl whose life was taken from us by genocidal policies of the Canadian government and religious denominations of churches….. The transference of traditional knowledge and languages was directly impacted and replaced with a violent cycle of abuse. Every Aboriginal person has been affected whether a family member attended residential school or not. When a systemic process is created to destroy a people by erasing a language, a culture and a spirit, every single person is affected. When this system attacked children, the heart of our Nation, the heart of our Mothers and Grandmothers, it attacked every single person.(13)11

Trauma left from genocidal actions in language have made patriarchal impacts on society in more ways than just through the educational institutions. Another example in which the United States and Canada has left Patriarchal trauma is in the language of law in relationship to definitions of who is “American Indian” enrolled in a federally recognized tribe and can own property and capital, or a “status Indian.” Much language that is male-centric was implied when the United States and Canada created laws that attempted to reverse laws that previously oppressed and colonized Indigenous Nations. In result, many of these laws that were established as an attempt reconcile with American Indians and First Nations people by allowing them to by racializing them and give an opportunity for them to become citizens, further oppressing groups in these communities that were not male, able-bodied individuals within the ages of an adult.

In the United States, the Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes act of 188712, was created to allow qualified “Heads of Households” to claim ancestral land allotted in reserves. In a traditional framework, many heads of households were women and elders, who provided for the home and had much authority over the familial structures. This is very relevant, especially within matrilineal societies, pre-contact, including my mother’s and father’s Indigenous nations. Under the language of this act, it is specified that the head of the household to claim lands can only be male, able-bodied persons, in relation to European American’s ideologies of heads of households. This enforced many patriarchal familial structures in Indigenous communities, no longer giving observance of authority to women who solely are heads of homes and hold leadership roles, politically or socially in their communities. The women from the communities that cannot claim property, are subjected to either leaving their communities or becoming dependent on men in the community because of their newly-established economic and land resources.

In Canada, the Indian Act13 created an oppressive legal structure of defining Indigenous identity, as stated by Nora Bothwell. This act was provided for Aboriginal peoples, or Indians, to claim status and rights as an Indigenous person of Canada through the allowed protocols. The status of an Indian or Aboriginal person was through the marital ties of their families. If members had remained married to other members of the communities, the status of individuals was recognized. If an Indigenous woman had married a non-status or non-Aboriginal person, they and their children could not be recognized as a status Indian. If an Indigenous man married a non-status or non-Aboriginal person, not only would their status remain, but their spouse and children would gain status as well. This was very problematic when considering what happens to individuals that lose status and their relationships to their communities. Nora accounts her experience,

When I married and became non-states I became an underdog. At the time I married, I didn’t understand the implications of no longer being ‘Indian.’ I continued to work in the community, but it angered me when I saw job postings with said ‘must be band member.’… I got my education while I was non-status and grants weren’t available to me. (22)14

When a status is lost, many tribes even decided to have non-status individuals leave communities permanently as well as give up their property, with no option of selling. Many communities that had observed this law were matrilineal, resulting in women who had strong political, economic and social roles, being forced to leave their communities, damaging the traditional systems of matriarchy.

Multidimensional Indigenous Resistance

            Another reminder that resistance to oppressive and colonizing forces differ with nations is noted. Although many nations have been politically, economically, socially, culturally, psychologically, linguistically, or directly physically colonized and oppressed, not all experiences and attempts were the same, nor did they have the same reactions and responses by affected communities. Some continue to resist any one of these efforts, and some have almost completely stopped resisting all efforts in an organized fashion due to lack of numbers represented in solidarity, resources or knowledge.

During my travels I have observed political, cultural and spiritual revitalization of coastal native communities through Tribal Canoe Journeys. This has been very inclusive and not only healing to individuals from various coastal communities but to the relationships that these coastal communities have with one another. This newly established annual tradition has encouraged communities to teach members traditional songs, language and to reconcile their relationships with the natural world by living off the lands that they are ancestrally from and learning how to navigate through waterways using ancestral forms of transportation. Sociolinguistics have correlated with all aspects of resistance; creating spaces to practice verbal language, non-verbal communication and expressions of language through dance and song. These songs and dances especially are the intellectual properties that hold history, business and identity amongst the tribes and individuals.

In the most recent canoe journey, Paddle to Bella Bella, another element beyond culture and society was added in experience in revitalizing Indigeneity throughout tribes and families participating in canoe journeys. This element was revitalizing our relationship with respecting and reciprocating the respect and appreciation we have for the natural world’s abundance. This reciprocity is changing a lens of not just living and understanding the natural world but protecting it. During the final week of canoe journeys are the final protocols in which all participating tribes present and share songs and dances, with an addition of every tribe hosting and preparing meals each day. During this week, the host tribe of the final landing, the Heiltsuik Nation of Bella Bella, had a day that was dedicated towards rallying for environmental justice and sovereignty rights.15 During this rally, nations that were even historically opposed to one another came together to challenge new laws and language in Canadian government that is made dismantle First Nations sovereignty, abolish what Nations that are left have in terms of self-sustainability. These issues were focused critically around the Enbridge oil pipeline initiative proposed and pressured by the government to drill and transfer oil across many Indigenous nations in British Columbia. I mention these efforts in self-determination because they are so critical to communities that did not have education of the legal language of laws, sovereignty, as well as what is considered feminine forces and influences of relating to nature with positive and reciprocal ethics.

In Southeast Alaska, my tribe, the Tlingit nations, as well as Haida and Tsimshian nations are gathering together every other year to hold an informal cultural ceremony called Celebration. Celebration allows the three tribes to reconcile their historical friction of warfare and raiding in the by sharing dancing, singing and friendly juried competitions that engage people into the traditional practices of gathering, processing and preparing seaweed and soapberries into a unique delicacy. With smallpox and boarding schools being a large amount of damage done to Southeast Alaskan Native villages, sharing songs and embracing efforts made by leaders of smaller dance groups and cultural educators is necessary to recover what stories and histories had been taken from our communities after contact.

Gathering all initiatives from much of the Red Power Movements of Indigenous consciousness and Indigeneity being a discourse for relations, all successful attempts and accomplishments in creating decolonial spaces could not be sustainable without feminine or female input and advising. In the Ojibwe narrative of the survival of community, “Holding our World Together,”16 it is observed that “when a group began meeting in the summer of 1968 to address and challenge the problems urban Indians faced, Ojibwe women were part of every forum.” It was even noted by Child in this feminine narrative of history that the Indigenous women stated the focus has always been to direct our attention on one thing or another, so it would only be understanding if they identified as a group under the name American Indian Movement and with relevancy, under the acronym ‘AIM.’ The powerful story of “Two Old Women”17 sets a timeless example of survival and the power of collective respect through sharing legends as teachings. What makes this story unique is that it is set before contact, when time was spatial and not linear, while still holding the same relevant moral of interdependence and not seeking to form hierarchies evaluated by ability and male knowledge to society. When two abandoned elder women were reconnected with their betraying community, their ability to survive challenged the idea that they were less valuable because of age and having less physical ability because they are women. The endurance and survival taught the community the valuable lesson that “The People found themselves seeking out the company of the two women for advice and to learn new things. Now they realized that because the two women had lived so long, surely they knew a lot more than The People had believed.” Female knowledge and ideologies as well as Indigenous nations coming together and sharing stories are equally valuable when making spaces of resistance and addressing oppression.

Sociolinguistics in Western Globalism and Philosophy

Languages, in newer generations of the oppressive and colonizing structures in societies, post-contact, are not as much influenced by state-nations, than they are influenced by cross-national structures of economy, academics, politics and societal norms. It is important to remember that many Indigenous nations are still influenced by oppositional national and governmental structures, and that is a factor in continued struggles to maintain Indigenous existence, but this article is focusing on the impacts global structures have on existing linguistically indigenous communities, as well as in finding identity after historical oppression. Through my observations, philosophical and sociolinguistic implications that non-Indigenous languages leave on Indigenous communities can be problematic in their approach and the ways in which they impact relationships. I will discuss the multiple incentives in which Non-Indigenous languages globally are portrayed to contribute, continually allowing unconscious and conscious consent of further colonizing Indigenous communities. Economics, academics and society influence Indigenous communities that struggle to maintain traditional sociolinguistic structures, post-contact, whereas English has now become a medium of communication, globally used as a preferred language.

Although living in the States, I have always had an understanding of how assimilation laws still influence Indigenous Nations within the United States to bring their children up around English, I was not as aware of the global similarities other Indigenous communities throughout the world had with their ongoing struggles to have a healthy relationship with the English language from a distance. South Africa led a new perspective of how the land that I am from (although I do not solely identify with an American nationality), influences the world, especially rare and “dying” languages of Indigenous communities throughout the world. When understanding the maintenance of language, different factors that incorporate death to continual use of language are very important. Because English is a dominant language, the effects is has in the United States with all races and national origins, cause great shifts and loss in rare languages still today. The reasons for this can be greatly tied to the gradual death of Indigenous languages in South Africa.

The English language has continuously been a vehicle of communication to encourage global citizens to participate in capitalistic interactions. Although throughout my travels, English has been a helpful tool to navigate unknown places by utilizing my competency of English as my first language, learning native tongues of South African territories such as isiZulu have helped me differentiate the experience and perspectives that hold historical and cultural value to Bantu-based linguistic versus the oppressive narratives of English and Afrikaaner communities. Marriages, funerals, commerce in the form of trading and bartering, as well as naming of individuals within the Zulu tribes have required me to understand basic structures and philosophies that incorporate the isiZulu language. For example, pronouns are not assigned to specific genders, but by the number individuals a person is referring to as well as whether they have a given name or are unnamed. The isiZulu language had to borrow words from the Afrikaans and English language when used in institutional education, such as “worth” and “price;” simply because Bantu-based languages did not conceptualize comparable and unequal, measurable values or prices to objects and life forms. These perspectives are very different from English and Afrikaans languages, considering how formal and specific the languages are when directing words towards or about an individual or groups as well as interacting in many English-spoken countries when discussing commerce. Consider this and many other elements unique the Indigenous sociolinguistics always being an important protocol to understand what categorized gender they are assigned, if any.

While working with and observing several “Born Frees” (Blacks/Indigenous born in post-apartheid South Africa) throughout both public and private Primary Schools, High Schools and colleges, throughout the state of Kwa-Zulu-Natal and the city of Johannesburg, I have learned how a country such as South Africa, post-apartheid, is utilizing their accessibility to include all official languages in the country and state’s education system. To my surprise, the efforts in making an even distribution of individuals learning Indigenous languages versus non-Indigenous languages were not as empowering, progressive and de-colonial as I had anticipated. More so, individuals had been been influenced and manipulated through forces outside of their classrooms or even their states to prefer English in economic and academic discourse.

English has been a means in which many children in grade schools and young adults in higher education, from all racial backgrounds, are pressured to prefer in order to best comprehend how to utilize stable and competitive economic and academic opportunities in their country and abroad. Herman Batibo articulately explained how the gradual death of Indigenous Languages can be explained in how they are utilized in sociolinguistics.18 During my dialogues with South African instructors and students, they have expressed that democracy has promoted schools to have unique systems in which they allow their students to conceptualize and choose the languages they predominantly want to speak, and provide them with a school that focuses on the specific languages. With a mono-linguistic society considered as an echo of Apartheid oppression, many students in the state of Kwa-Zulu-Natal with high academic performance during my interviews speak over three to four languages on average. Black students are identified as the Indigenous groups and were previously at the bottom of the Apartheid’s hierarchy of power, spoke a “native tongue” in their homes, but chose South African dialects of English and what was formerly known as “Kitchen Dutch,” Afrikaans, primarily throughout the higher levels of their grade school as well as their collegiate academic educations. After the Apartheid, a new South African Constitution was created that would be all-inclusive to Indigenous languages, settlers languages and immigrant languages, unlike the previous constitution that protected and provided understanding only through Afrikaans and English. To recognize this change, 11 languages were officially recognized under the new constitution; 9 of these languages are Indigenous (isiZulu, isiXhosa, Setswana, etc) and 2 are non-Indigenous (English and Afrikaans). Although all students are constitutionally promised to be provided a proper education in their native tongue or the South African language of their choice, stakes were not in their favor when they considered an option of speaking their native tongues. Throughout my interviews and observations with Black students that spoke their native tongues as their First Language, I became concerned with education departments of both private and high education institutions and their need to have Black children stray from using their native tongues or Indigenous languages as a medium of education, but instead, they are taught that Afrikaans is a “dying” language and English will enrich you as a student more than any other language can. Although this narrative is not directly said, it is seen in the numbers of urban students commuting to private primary schools, urban high schools and colleges throughout the country that have classes filled with students learning in Afrikaans and English, not necessarily encouraging non-Black students to learn in Indigenous languages of South Africa. Malaika Wa Azania depicts her impressions of being a student in the post-Apartheid South African education system:

Mistress M was screaming at us, telling us how disappointed she was at our collective stupidity, which, according to her, we had inherited from our parents, products of Bantu Education…… ‘The African National Congress wants you to have education better than what we had during the dark days of apartheid,’ she informed us (37).… By this time I had got over the nostalgia of township schools. I had come to the realization that, indeed, the infrastructural deficiencies in township schools were a serious threat to quality education.… Florida Park High School introduced me to myself in more ways than I could explain. The first subject I chose was Setswana as my first additional language as an alternative to Afrikaans. Throughout high school, I’d hated Afrikaans with a passion. It reminded me of many stories that my mother used to tell me about her childhood and how the Boers would harass folk in the townships….. And I hated the arrogance of Afrikaans teachers, who treated the subject like it was the most superior in the country (85).… Living in Braamfischer gave a face to the injustice of post-apartheid South Africa. Every morning as I queued up for taxis to Florida, I would see very small children carrying heavy backpacks. The uniforms they wore indicated that they studied in schools as far away as meadowlands Zone 1, a trip that took nearly two hours. (86) 19

When studying my own life and experience as an urban multiethnic Indigenous person, access within education in my native tongue of Lingit is impossible outside of taking an Alaskan Native Studies major in a University of Southeast Alaska campus, and much access outside of academic institutions require both time and money with no economic gain. To be taught what is identified as a “good” education in the United States, I need to commute from home, take courses in widely used and economically valuable foreign languages as well as focus on English and the secondary language as primary languages in education practices, unless I am a linguistics major.

Losing sociolinguistic ties to Indigenous communities creates loss in relationships of collective identities and the interactions with the natural world. English, for example, does not originate from one specific place. The linguistic changes in English dialects as they are spread throughout the world signifies its absence of definite meaning and original relationship to place and indigeneity. I have grown up learning from elders that Indigenous language is closely tied to indigenous lands. The words that described the seasons I lived in, the relationships I had to community and the relationship I have with my spirit are all embedded in language. When my father lost philosophical knowledge of our native tongue, he lost a large part of his identity and communal responsibility, including his relationship with me.

Indigenous Frameworks of Globalism

Advocacy against assimilating, adapting and conforming with little compromising, approaches toward languages can be more resistant, empowering and inclusive if utilized with an Indigenous approach to Globalization, without interrupting sociolinguistic structures and relationships still existent across Indigenous communities. Although Indigenous ideologies differ vastly from one another, much is clear that collective and inclusionary practices are within protocols of Indigenous communities when communicating and exchanging.

From a global and domestic perspective, diversity in language, spirituality and culture, not including structures of society are vast and observe very different epistemologies. To fully understand indigeneity and how Influence of it within globalization can encourage revitalization of language, it is important understand the similarities of axiology that many Indigenous Identities carry.

The “Four R’s: Relationship, Responsibility, Reciprocity and Redistribution” are the core values of Indigenous consciousness, according to Harris and Wasilewski20. When travelling to many indigenous communities, I have not had as large of a “culture shock” as many other students that were raised with more of a Western framework of values. Much in culture is nothing similar to my own identity when travelling to South Africa, but the way in which I interact and approach Indigenous communities as an insider, makes my experience and relationship in occupied Indigenous lands and community rather positive in comparison to the students who do not identify as Indigenous.

When understanding the values of Indigeneity, Indigeneity starts with relationships; a communal and collective identity. That relationship does not disconnect self from nature and community, but encompasses all to be what consists and Indigenous individual. When travelling and working in the world, approaches that value indigeneity would consist of identifying the places you are occupying, the communities that hold belonging to them and how they all can be in relation to yourself. When staying and doing research in South Africa, it was imperative for me to go to nature, understanding flora and fauna, visit traditional places of ceremony, as well as holding ties to the people that I met. All of these relationships were strengthened as I began learning the language and sharing my own language.

Interconnected with relationship, responsibility is a value that is very unique to indigeneity. When having relationships to language, people and places, comes accountability for the relationships. This creates a collective understanding that all actions and reactions in life are not isolated from the environments in which events occurred; these events reflect the entirety of communities and the communities are accountable for the individual as well. Much of this understanding of responsibility is very rare when looking at environments and the relationships non-Indigenous people have to the natural world. When discussing animals and plants, Indigenous people have great understanding that ceremony and kinships contribute to all interactions they have in relationships. Child reiterates the responsibilities of the Ojibwe people, pre-contact21. She explains various occasions in life and how the event of one individual is an event and responsibility for all witnesses. A girl’s coming-of-age becomes a responsibility collectively to prepare her to be carry a strong spirit and hold her physical self with great ability because of the sacrifices and power to give life. When ceremonies were held for marriage, it was the community’s responsibility to ensure a healthy and successful marriage. When couples could not get along, divorces were accessible due to the fact that their relationship was not a failure of the individuals married, but a relationship that could not be sustained by their communities. The relationships and gratitude Ojibwe people hold for nature that provides them nourishment is highly misunderstood by European people. Responsibilities were equally assigned to genders, ensuring that communities held respect through their contributions. Women, for example, were highly valued for maintaining relationships with water through ceremony and communal economic practices when preparing rice camps, fishing and hunting birds. The cultivation was not in practice of control but rather the responsibilities of maintaining growth in the future and reciprocity to nature for providing humans with life.

Reciprocity in relationships and responsibilities are also necessary in Indigenous worldviews. The lack of reciprocity in Western societies contribute to contemporary problems in the Western globalization of environmental injustice, income disparities and continued human rights violations that are predominant against women and Indigenous communities. Reciprocity is what we, as humans, can contribute through our responsibilities; starting a cycle of exercising relationships. Having a great understanding of what is collectively expected with consensus in the relationships held is the primary focus in how Indigenous people behave.

When speaking on feminism in Indigenous communities, for example, the redistribution expected by these communities hold much different expectations of redistribution than Western ideologies of feminism. Joyce Green states in the collective book in which she edited, that feminism within a Western discourse lacks a very large understanding of Indigenous values and experiences; equity being a larger necessity than equality.22 Redistribution does not include a homogenous experience of responsibility, relationships, or the uneven reciprocity in response of both. Sharing experiences through localized narratives creates acceptance of difference and similar origins of values and struggles. Redistribution is the element of indigeneity that cycles back to the continuation of relationships.

All of these values have been historically maintained when globally interacting with other Indigenous communities. Throughout all of my assigned readings in American Indian and Indigenous studies, it is the diverse perspectives that relate and hold responsibility to enrich and challenge my own experience as an Indigenous woman and scholar. To be taught one experience and narrative on the political ideology of Indigeneity would be an imperial and colonial, contradicting the diversity and acceptance of contributing stories. In various travels, I have learned that my relationships with new places require a constant protocol the practice their values, regardless of the occasional exhaustion of learning lenses of spaces and time all other again. I cannot impose my own narratives and value systems because, as an Indigenous person, these narratives and value systems solely hold belonging with and interpretation of the places in which they originate. Understanding diverse Indigenous narratives and knowledge does not require translation of language but changing framework in which narratives are understood. Changing and valuing communal experiences contribute to addressing and healing global issues experienced from the damages of imperialism. Narratives and sociolinguistic relationships with the oppressor is also necessary and factors into the array of contributors. Finding collective answers and maintaining communal responsibilities that acknowledge local experiences and relationships, resurge Indigenous ideologies and values on a global scale.

Solidarity in Communities

I cannot reiterate how important it is to not only tolerate diverse communities, even oppressive or dominant communities, but include and encourage relationships with all groups, globally. When verbal language creates barriers in communities, it is important to create spaces that share exchanges in non-verbal communication as well as compromising our methods in which individuals relate when outside of their communities.

In First Voices, Lina Sunseri discusses the intersections of her experience of being multiethnic as well as her observations when addressing issues in feminisms and movements for nationalism.23 She understands that implications made by Western ideologies of feminism do not acknowledge White Supremacy, the localized experiences of colonization, and the interests centered on individualistic rights. Intersections of identity and their relationships to colonization create more inclusive involvement in feminism. Sunseri acknowledges that she is multiethnic, recognizing privileges from some aspects of her identity as well as the need to supplement and not abuse her privileges by creating spaces for narratives from groups that are marginalized in mainstream western feminism.

Similar to the experience of Sunseri, I have identified myself in similar conflicts when advocating for social justice and human rights. When first coming onto the University of Washington campus, my grandmother told me to write a list of my privileges and oppressions. My privileges consist of being a student in higher education, being a third generation student in college, being a citizen of a “first-world” country (the United States), enrolled in my recognized tribal nation (Tlingit – Hoonah Village), having full mental and almost full physical ability, being a young adult, identifying myself as cis-gendered, coming from a middle-class home, and speaking English as my first language. My oppressions with western society consist of being a woman, being “of color,” politically identifying as Indigenous, studying in a public-service-oriented field, being multiethnic, not identifying with straight nor identifying with a socially constructed sexual identity, and being non-Christian. These statements remind me that I must always recognize my internalized complexity so that I can advocate on behalf of my oppressed identities and prevent my privilege from being imposed in spaces that are being shared with diverse communities.

Regardless of privileges and oppressions, it is so important for all communities to collectively understand the inclusiveness of indigeneity. Communication confirms relationships through sociolinguistic interactions and practices. Maintaining indigenous values and identities require sustaining Indigenous languages. These languages sustain the relationships with the natural world and philosophical aspects of collective knowledge. The global revitalization of Indigenous languages can heal relationships with the natural world as well hold communities accountable for sustaining diversity within Indigenous voices. A world with diversity is a world resists continued attempts in colonization.

Bibliography

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3Dauenhauer, Nora, Richard Dauenhauer, and Lydia Black. Russians in Tlingit America. Vol. 4. University of Washington Press, 2008.

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22 Green, Joyce A. “Introduction: Indigenous Feminism; From Symposium to Book.” “Chapter 1: Taking Account of Aboriginal Feminism.” Making Space for Indigenous Feminism. Black Point, N.S.: Fernwood Pub., 2007. 14-32. Print.

23 Sunseri, Lina. “Moving Beyond the Feminism Versus Nationalism Dichotomy: An Anti-Colonial Feminist Perspective on Aboriginal Liberation Struggles.” First Voices: An Aboriginal Women’s Reader. Ed. Patricia A. Monture and Patricia D. McGuire. Toronto: Inanna Publications and Education, 2009. 253-63. Print.

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One thought on “Languages of Oppression: New and Continued Colonization, Patriarchy and Indigenous Resistance within the Western Globalism of Sociolinguistics

  1. I just found your blog. The content here is powerful and immense and I’ll be taking time to digest alot of what’s here. I began writing about indigenous issues as well and the subject matter in your posts are aligned with many of the conversations I have with my peer groups and friends. Amazing work. Quyanaq.

    Liked by 1 person

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