Native American Culture – Language: the Key to Everything | Ron (Muqsahkwat) Corn, Jr. | TEDxOshkosh

Translator: Craig Burnett
Reviewer: Cissy Yun My fellow Menominee, all my relations
and everyone who is present here. Thank you, I say to all of you
for gathering here. Now I will speak a little… I am from the land of the Menominee
and I am Bear clan. My grandmother comes from Keshena, Enaēmaēhkūkiw is my mother,
Nēpowew-awaēhsaeh is my father, Mahwaēhsaeh is my brother, and
Nēpen-ānakwatūkiw is my sister. My wife is Awaēhsēsaeh and
we have 5 children. First born is Omiyosokwewo-opimohtet then
my daughter Waqsecīwan, my son Cīnānakwat and also
my daughter Nanīmaqowiakiw. My last born is Maeqnakwahkūkiw. I also
have one grandson: he is Powehkaneh. It has been my distinct honor to share
a little bit of the Menominee language with you all today, as it has been
targeted for destruction for over a hundred and fifty years, and its
very existence today is symbolic of the resilience of our tribal
communities here in America. I would like to tell you all, the story
about my journey reclaiming my language. This journey goes back to a time
when I can recall being six years old, when my family relocated from our
residence on the reservation to a neararby village so that my father could
attend college at the university there. At that time, I had told my mother
I was unable to move, because I had to stay and learn my language,
and learn to sing. Well, I didn’t win that argument.
(Laughter) So, I ended up in this new place,
and it became quickly apparent that I had a unique identity. As the questions started to come in,
I can recall my art teacher asking, “What does your flag look like?”
I can recall my classmates asking, “What is your Indian name?
Do you still live in a teepee?” Well, I was pretty sure I didn’t
live in a teepee. Some of the other questions I didn’t
have good answers for. So I began to come home and have these
conversations with my father, and it became quickly apparent that I had
a unique identity. Now, coincidentally or not, at that
same time, we had a Menominee elder agree to teach classes at the university
where my father attended school; to teach Menominee language classes,
to be more specific. And, as he began to do that, he would
stop at our place on his commute. As he was having these conversations
with my father, he started to teach myself and my siblings some
words of our language. I’m about nine years old at this time, and he started to notice that I was
pretty good at learning this language. And I did too. And that was a big deal
for me, because at that time, I didn’t excel at anything.
And, after some time, he had even invited me to be his
tutor at the university. As you can imagine, I was pretty proud. I can recall going there on my
ten-speed. (Laughter) And I can remember the first time I
stood in front of his class, and he introduced me.
And when he introduced me, he told his students that,
“This young man is a good speaker of our language, and if you need help,
go ahead and ask him; he can help you.” I can remember standing there with
such pride, and I began to work that room, walking around,
offering my assistance. And that, ladies and gentlemen,
sparked my fire for language. Upon returning home to the reservation,
at around 12 years old, I encountered a situation where we had a
first-language-fluent speaker that was teaching at our junior high.
She was an elder. This lady and I quickly bonded, and
as our bond transpired over time, she eventually ended up adopting me as a son.
And in that way, nurturing my language use, my language ability.
Now, as I’m learning the language, I’m learning words, and words, and words.
And I’m starting to use the words. But as I came to find out, I didn’t
really understand the words. And the first time I remember noticing
this, was when I asked her, “We are called the Menominee.
What does that mean?” And she says, “Ahh, yah, we’re
called Menominee.” She says, “But in our own language,
we call ourselves Mamāceqawak.” “We’re the movers, full of life.”
And I thought, “Wow! How amazing is that?”
But it opened my mind, and I started to wonder what else was
behind this language. And, as I began to ask questions,
I suddenly began to realize that language is the key to everything.
You see, my need to learn everything in an English-based manner was quickly
met by the Menominee language. And, for example, a verb as simple
as “apēw”, which in our language means, “he or she sits.”
I had recalled asking, “Well, how do I distinguish the
difference between “he” and “she”? Well, we don’t do that, you see, we
have no gender hierarchy in our language. And I can recall thinking,
“Wow, what an amazing feature in a time and place where we’re all
fighting for gender equality, we had this forever.
(Applause, Laughter) That’s pretty amazing. So I continued learning the language,
and I came to find out just what a big role animacy plays in our
Menominee language, as it even dictates the verbs that
follow them, and it affects the place where you place
the noun in a sentence. And I’m told that is because we place
emphasis on that animate being. We show them that respect,
and in fact, in a certain verb structure, we are required to place the person
we are speaking to in front of us, so not when I say “Ketāpānen”,
I am saying, “It is you I love,” not, “I love you,”
And that’s such a powerful language shift. In that as well,
is the idea of netaēnawēmākenak, our word that means, “all of our relation.” That word expands beyond those who
we consider blood relatives. That extends to
every living being on earth. Not just my relatives,
or my fellow tribesmen, but every living being on earth.
Netaēnawēmākenak. Wow! Now, as I’m growing into this
language space, I recall listening to
one of my elders speak, and this man was trying to
help us to understand just how special
our language was. And, he had told us that,
“Language is the soul of your tribe. When the language is gone,
all you have left is an empty shell.” Wow. That really sat with me, and
the idea that by learning my language, I am the soul of my tribe. By learning your language,
you are the soul of your tribe. What a powerful thing. I give my tribe
life, and my tribe gives me life. As I’m fumbling through life,
trying to figure things out, I can really point to the time and place
when those words were spoken to me. When I really started to come into my own. Just like, on a trip to the Big Island
of Hawaii, where we’re networking with folks who also are engaging in
revitalizing their identity to the idea
of language revitalization. These key words were spoken to me,
“Language is the key to everything.” Since hearing those words,
a lot has come through for me. I’m excited and proud to stand here and
share these words, and, in closing… When I think about what it means
to be Menominee I know that learning our language did a lot for me. As we continue into the future
we must remember our Ancestors, our fellow living beings,
and those still to come in the future. All my relations, that is it.

  1. Wow,absolutely LOVE your Ribbon-shirt here Ron!!! LOVE this video and all that is said within it!!! Well done Sir!!! 🙂

  2. Nepaeqtaenesem neköqsemahsaeh Mūqsahkwat. Kēs-kēkētow anom kāēc-onaet wēhcekanan. tahnāēnoh kēsekat kocēqtah kīketinon māēnawac omāêqnomenēw wēhcekanan.
    ahpāēnenew enes netāēheh Mùqsahkwat ,ketāpanen .

  3. jgood job I could not be prouder as a old menominee who was told than being a menominee was a dead life u give me hope for the future

  4. A warrior for language revitalization indeed! A good retrospective, and good insights on not approaching from an English perspective as a learner.

  5. st'at'imc nation from BC Canada. our language also uses gender neutral words. pretty much use they and them. I am on my way of learning our language and I hope when I'm older, to teach the rest of my community. it's kinda my dream to have our communities to fluently speak our language for every day use. I might not become a fluent speaker, but I hope to at least be a fluent writer of my language.
    kukwstumckacw. (thank you in Ucwalmicwts[the name of our language])

  6. Such a beautiful culture and language. After taking my Native American Literature class, I have found no language more beautiful sounding.

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