Jerry L. Hill in Native Condition. Discussion »
Show Your Support
GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - On January 19 a Menominee 7th grader was benched and suspended from a Catholic School in Shawano, Wisconsin, for speaking Menominee with two other girls from the Menominee Indian Reservation. Shawano is a small town several miles south of the Reservation. Like many off-reservation communities, there is a history of racist attitudes against Indians, although we like to think that the relations have improved. This incident shows that racism is alive and well.
That this happened in a parochial religious school makes this a wake-up call for everyone who believed that America has moved beyond such displays of ignorance. Historical precedents are plentiful. Yet, the bad heartedness behind persists when a 12 year old child is subjected to such treatment in 2012.
The Washinawatok family has a long history of involvement in Indian issues at home and abroad. Miranda's great aunt, Ingrid Washinawatok, was murdered in Colombia in 1999 while working for the rights of Indigenous people there. Her grandmother, Karen Washinawatok, is currently the Director of the Menominee Language Program, and former Chairwoman of the Menominee Language and Culture Commission and Tribal Chairwoman. Karen was a presenter at the Indigenous Language Institute Symposium in October 2011 in Albuquerque. Her great grandfather, James Washinawatok, was a Tribal judge, whose namesake grandson is now a practicing attorney.
This family, like many others in Indian Country, has been generationally dedicated to the preservation of the Culture and Sovereignty of their people and indigenous people everywhere. So this is more than moral support or a reaction to a single incident, it is resonating throughout Native communities in the United States, Canada and the entire hemisphere.
Of course, there are those who may trivialize this incident but seemingly small events are the catalyst for huge reactions. This is one such incident.
The work of Indigenous Language Institute is to help preserve the use of heritage languages of Indians and other Native people here and throughout the world. The Washinawatok incident has served to refocus the attention of Indian Country and the general public on how language is still an active issue. Moreover, it is a sharp reminder that there are those whose ignorance would strike out at a child upon hearing words they don-t understand.
Those days are not behind us they are here and now.
The Indigenous Language Institute stands with the Washinawatok family, especially Miranda, the brave young woman who drew the wrath of her teachers, and the Menominee Tribe and Native people everywhere who have endured such undeserved abuse for simply using the language of their ancestors.
Let's all show our support for Miranda Washinawatok and the countless others who have been disrespected by ignorant adults who ought to know better.
Jerry L. Hill - Oneida, is the President of the Indigenous Language Institute.
posted February 11, 2012 6:20 am est
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