Indiana: Thoughts on Indigenous Revitalization
Please take the time to listen to it, or read the transcript below:
Hello, my name is Peter Stanton, and this is my very first podcast, entitled "Indiana." Be sure to check out the transcript of this podcast and my other writing on peterstanton.blogspot.com.
Think for a moment about humble Indiana—Indiana, the land of corn and basketball. What does the name Indiana mean, anyway? Unsurprisingly, it means "land of the Indians"—a name thought up by white people, of course. But would you guess what percentage of people living in Indiana today are Native Americans? It's 0.4 percent. What kind of sick joke is that? That's about 25,000 people in a state of 6.5 million.
Why then are there so few "Indians" in the so-called "land of Indians"? Well, it all has something to do with a little thing called history—the westward expansion of European settlers into the Great Lakes region, numerous wars fought in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, manipulated and broken treaties, and finally the forced resettlement to the Great Plains of those indigenous people who remained. Not only were all the peoples that gave Indiana its name destroyed or defeated, but their cultures and ways of life were either uprooted or entirely erased.
Should you find one of the 25,000 Native Americans living in Indiana, please don't tell them "sorry" for that destruction. Apologies can be powerful, but no apology can account for the devastation wreaked by the formation of the United States over the past three hundred years. Nothing can make Indiana—or the rest of North America—what it was before.
So, instead of feeling bad about a past that can never be changed, how about doing something positive for the indigenous peoples that remain in our country? Support their cultures, and especially their languages.
Imagine for a second how you could communicate what American culture is all about in a language other than English. Would you really be able to describe our Constitution, Thanksgiving, baseball, or our immigration "melting pot"? Even if you could, it wouldn't be perfectly understood, and you would lose a great deal of the details that make American culture vibrant and sometimes difficult for other people to understand.
The same is true for our country's many indigenous cultures. Sure, they can be described in English, but language forms the heart of a culture, and when a language is lost, its culture may be lost, misinterpreted, or maligned as well. Maybe that's why there are so many hipsters now who think it's ok to wear faux headdresses that make them look like dumbasses.
There are hundreds of indigenous languages still known in the United States, but most of them have very few speakers, and they receive very little support from unknowing people nearby. Of course, the state of these languages has a lot to do with more recent history, particularly abusive schools and policies of forced assimilation.
Today, however, you have an opportunity to do more than just apologize for these past injustices. Find a group of people in your part of the country who are working to perpetuate their language and their culture. Ask them what you can do to help: Learn their language, advocate for it to be taught in schools, or support them in some other way. Don't just laugh at the sick historical joke made of Indiana. Celebrate the living indigenous heritage of the United States, and don't let it go ignored and unappreciated any longer.
I'll leave you then with a phrase in Lingít, a language of the northern Northwest Coast: Tsu héidei shugax̱tootaan, yá yaa ḵusgédaakeit, haa jeexʼ anaḵ has kawdakeetʼ. "We will again open this container of wisdom that has been left in our care."
[Note: Please read my other writing about Lingít, indigenous-American relations, and the future of indigenous identities.]