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UW-Milwaukee's Electa Quinney Institute is working to revitalize, teach indigenous languages

electa quinney institute
Posted at 10:47 AM, Oct 09, 2023

MILWAUKEE — The Electa Quinney Institute at UW-Milwaukee is working to revitalize and promote indigenous languages.

"Historically, due to colonization, there's been a lot of difficulty. Some languages have fully died out and there's a number of them that are endangered," institute director Mark Freeland said.

Freeland is also the director of the American Indian Studies program at the university.

To revitalize the languages, they're starting with education. At UWM, classes in Ojibwe, Oneida and Potawatomi are currently offered. Classes for Ho-Chunk and Menominee are in the works.

"It's really important to keep those languages alive to help continue our relationships to our ancestors, our relationships to our lands, our relationships to all the relatives around us," Freeland explained.

The institute has also been working on publishing children's books.

"It's pretty amazing for one thing. Nothing like that existed when I was a child, that's for sure," said the institute's Elder-in-Residence Mischiikenh.

But beyond the books and classes, Freeland and Mischiikenh said the work also provides healing.

"This is absolutely essential because of the way in which the boarding school process has really damaged our relationship to education," Freeland said.

The impacts of the boarding schools is something Mischiikenh knows well.

"My father is a first-generation survivor of the residential schools," he shared. "I saw the effects it had on him and I more or less adopted many of those characteristics. Something I didn't want to do."

He said the healing of learning his own native language goes beyond himself.

"I was always told my the elders that you carry that genetic spirituality through you. So, their being is still flowing through you. When you heal yourself, you're healing what they had lost."

The institute also works on training Indigenous people as teachers to help heal the inter-generational trauma caused by boarding schools.

Learn more about the institute and the work they're doing here.