The Indigenous Scholarship Program at Northeastern University made its first move toward an intertribal student exchange program yesterday.
Jennifer McCann, program director, said the goal is to eventually create a student exchange program with other colleges that have tribal studies programs, similar to study abroad programs.
Program officials will be meeting with representatives from the University of Hawaii at Hilo and Bemidji State, as well as the dean of Liberal Arts and assistant dean of Liberal Arts, to discuss future exchanges.
On Tuesday, representatives gave presentations about the Hawaiian and Ojibwe culture, respectively, before a forum on tribal language programs with speakers from the College of Muscogee Nation and NSU’s Department of Cherokee Studies.
Each speaker shared information about the language program offered by his respective institute, as well as general problems and potential solutions for similar programs.
“Whatever we learn from our ancestors, we carry with us today,” said Norma Marchall, with the College of Muscogee Nation. “The distinctiveness carries through today and we carry that with pride.”
The college has multiple tiers of language studies, from beginners to literacy classes involving service projects in the communities, teaching the Muscogee language.
“We can have a lot of fun with our language,” said Marchall.
Other classes at the college focus on Native American history, Muscogee history, contemporary Muscogee life and Muscogee arts.
“Many eminent scholars come to teach these courses,” said Marchall.
She said the cedar flute courses are especially popular with young men. Cedar flutes were traditionally used to write romantic songs.
One young man who took the course told Marchall he was going to use the knowledge gained in the class in the same manner.
“I asked him, ‘Did you catch any girls?’ He said, ‘I sure did,’” said Marchall.
Jason Iota Cabral said every higher-division class on his campus is taught in the Hawai’ian language. Solely English speakers on campus are asked to wear a tea leaf so others on campus will know to only speak English to those individuals. Otherwise, students and professors speak Hawai’ian.
He also said the language itself conveys much of the culture of the people, as well.
In traditional Hawai’ian religion, people can fling curses and Cabral suggested it can be a bit disconcerting to teach these traditional curses to college students when he will then be grading their assignments.
Anton Treuer, from Bemidji State, said many Ojibwe words are literal interpretations of objects, meaning some words are infamously long and complicated. Because of this, the roots of the word is present within the word itself. With European objects, Treuer said what the Ojibwe thought of these objects is also evident.
As an example, Treuer said the Ojibwe word for pants roughly translates to “the thing that sews up the hind-end.”
“Nothing could be more important for every aspect of life than living language,” said Treuer.
The Ojibwe people are spread over five states in the upper Midwest and Canada. Treuer said one Canadian official told representatives if aboriginal people did not have a distinct language, they cannot demand special rights because they are an assimilated people.
Treuer went on to say many tribes are focusing on economic independence when they should be focusing on language and cultural independence.
“We are developing literary traditions for an oral language,” said Treuer.