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'We want more of it': Community efforts to bring back Oneida language

Posted at 5:56 PM, Apr 10, 2024

ONEIDA (NBC 26) — Efforts to bring back Indigenous languages are happening across northeast Wisconsin. NBC 26 spoke with people about what is being done to bring back the Oneida language and others.

  • A look inside an artist's visit to Lombardi Middle School to teach students about Indigenous languages
  • One professor said the Oneida language is endangered, with just two local fluent speakers
  • A mother helps a community-led group teach Oneida to all ages
  • For learning resources, click here

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story.)

Efforts to bring back Indigenous languages are happening across northeast Wisconsin. I'm Pari Apostolakos on the Oneida reservation and I spoke to people about what is being done to bring back their mother tongue.

Lombardi Middle School students had a special guest Wednesday. A hip-hop artist who shared his song about struggling to learn his indigenous language, Anishinaabemowin.

"In order to understand our culture, to have a very deep grasp of it, we have to have our languages survive," Paul Wendell Jr. said. "'Cause there's so much knowledge within a language that teaches us more about our culture we wouldn't be able to communicate just in English."

Paul Wendell's visit [is] part of a school course teaching world languages and cultures. It includes a unit on another indigenous language, Oneida, and how to save it. There are several efforts in the area.

"As parents, families, as community members we want more of it," Kanani Nunies, who calls herself an Oneida language mentor, said. She's part of a community-led learning group and says it's rewarding to teach her children.

"We want it so that we can carry that home, so we want to empower parents and families and children," she said.

At St. Norbert College Rosa King teaches a course on the First Nations of Wisconsin. She says today only two people locally are fluent speakers of the Oneida language.

"A lot of the history has informed where we're at today in terms of these assimilation policies that have forced indigenous children to be removed from their communities and sent to boarding schools where they were stripped of their language," she said.

She says efforts to bring back languages like Oneida help more than the tribe

"We can use indigenous languages to find solutions to problems that affect us all, specifically like climate change, social injustice," King said.