Amik Smallwood on Native languages

By Paul DeMain
Reserve, Wisconsin (NFIC)

Major reports from publications and academia over the last decade have shown that many Native languages, through-out the world, and especially in Indian Country are endangered. Many are now considered extinct and are only found in reference books or the street signs of America, while others are spoken by only a handful of aging elders.

Indian Country has suffered through the transition, feeling loss of culture, religion and intimacy with life that surrounds their communities and can only be felt through expression in the Native tongue.

Larry Smallwood, also know as "Amik" in the Ojbwe language if a first speaker of Ojibwe. Ojibwe was the language that he was born and raised with until he went to school. Smallwood says he remembers struggling with the English language, but having been emerged into for six or more months, found that his understanding and ability to converse took place by "immersion.

Now, Amik is a teacher of the Ojibwe language in his own community of the Mille Band of Ojibwe and a strong proponent of emergence school and instruction methods. As part of his learning experience, Smallwood has traveled across the country to review and consult with other Native language programs, some which he believes will be successful in preserving the Native language, and therefore the culture of Indigenous people in the years to come.

News From Indian Country sat down with Amik for a ten minute conversation when we found him at the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe School Contest Pow wow June 1 near Reserve, Wisconsin. There Amik was a co-host MC for the event. Listen and watch our conversation with Amik.

"My generation is the last to speak the language fluently"

Note: Amik often comments to pow-wow audiences that "Amik" translates to "One who runs like a deer, soars like a golden eagle and has the strength of the mightiest storm" or various translations such as that. Ojibwe people who speak the language don't alway agree with that interpretation, but News From Indian Country will not dispute the translation of a first speaker to his own notion of what it means.



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