Language and Indigenous Peoples

Language and Indigenous Peoples
Native American Culture and the history of the first human beings to populate the America’s have always fascinated me. The book Hanta Yo by Ruth Beebe Hill took me into a world and let me live there in a spiritual journey which continues today. The main connection for me was the courage and altruism of the people living with and as part of the nature of the places they lived. A quote from the introduction follows, “The American Indian, even before Columbus, was the remnant of a very old race in its final stage, a race that had attained perhaps the highest working concept of individualism ever practiced. Neither the word ‘free’ nor any corresponding term occurs in the root language, in the primal concept: there never was anything for the Indian to free himself from. His was the spirit not seeking truth but holding on to truth. And his was the mind nourished on choice. Whatever he needed to know, nature sooner or later revealed to him. And that which he desired to know—the best way to achieve his maximum spiritual potential—was the only mystery he chose to investigate.”
I believe Hanta Yo means ‘Go forward’ in Dakota. Dakota is the name of the allied ones, the true name of the Sioux Tribe. “Linguists know that the; unique qualities of a particular language reflect the characteristics of its place of origin and the cultural context of the people who speak it” Nancy Lord goes on to say, “Languages…belong to environments in the same way that living creatures do, shaped by and shaping the places that spawn them, both in the words needed to identify and address the particulars of those places and in the structures needed to survive in them.” (pg 481) Often single words are used for phrases, descriptions and identification of the natural environment around the indigenous peoples.
Immigrants may have destroyed the way of life described but they adopted words and place names from the language of the Native Americans. Last year I attended a Pow Wow run by the Abernakis at the Mi Te Jo campground in Milton NH. The dancing and drumming tell stories which keep the culture alive. Native Americans culture is a language and includes music, dance, story-telling and art that are all part of the whole. Words for them are both mysterious and powerful.
It is sad that so many of the languages have been lost to time for a rich and wonderful history of the free and spiritual lives they led is also lost. The emphasis on nature is coming back and with the demise of our planet many are realizing the wisdom in the Native American way of life. I started a Database for this short paper which portrays how the natural environment was of great importance in words adopted and the meanings which described the nature of place. I will also bring in Art purchased at the Pow Wow and show how Art for them is also language.
Native American Language Influence
ID Tribe or Region Word or Place- Name-Definition- Remarks
5 Chippewa- hominy
6 Manhattan-papoose
7 Podunk- samp
8 Podunk- squash
9 Podunk- wampum
10 Eastern Tribes- caribou- Entered through Canadian French
11 Eastern Tribes- mackinaw-
12 Eastern Tribes- pone-
13 Eastern Tribes- Tammany- Entered through Canadian French
14 Eastern Tribes- terrapin-
15 Eastern Tribes- toboggan- Algonquin Tribe
16 West Indies- barbeque- Entered through Spanish
17 West Indies- canoe- Entered through Spanish
18 West Indies- cushaw- Entered through Spanish
19 Nahuat-Mexico- anaqua- Texas knock away tree
20 Nahuat-Mexico- coyote-
21 Nahuat-Mexico- peyote–
22 Choctaw- bayuk creek- Blend: Bayou w F de la Batre=creek of the artillary
23 Dakota- Minneapolis- minne=water+city=water city– Blend: with G/E (a)polis=city
24 Alabama- Alabama- state-tribal subdivision of the Creek Confederacy Indian loan of place name
25 Dakota- Minnesota- minne=water+sota=white, sky tinted or cloudy- Indian loan of place name
26 Dakota- Dakota- states- based on their word for friends or allies Indian loan of place name
27 Iroquois- Canada- from Kanata=settlement- Named by Jacques Cartier
28 Wakashan- potlach- feast-
29 Algonquin- hickory
30 Algonquin- chipmunk
31 Algonquin- caucus
32 Arawakan- Caribbean – sea and islands N. S. America throughout the Caribbean
33 Arawakan- hurricane
34 Arawakan- cannibal
35 Eastern Tribes- Massachusetts- state-from tribal name meaning large hill place- Indian loan of place name
36 Mohican- Connecticut- state &river from word for the long river- Indian loan of place name
37 Iroquois- Kentucky- from Kentahten meaning land of tomorrow- Indian loan of place name
38 Cherokee- Tennessee- from tanasi the name of a Cherokee village- Indian loan of place name
39 Algonquian- Mississippi- state &river from words meaning big river- Indian loan of place name
40 Ugakhpa/Quapaw- Arkansas- state-from word meaning downstream people- Indian loan of place name
41 Choctaw- Oklahoma- state-from words meaning red people- Indian loan of place name
42 Caddo &Allies- Texas- state-from word meaning friend or ally- Indian loan of place name
43 Iroquois- Ohio- state-from word meaning beautiful or beautiful river- Indian loan of place name
44 Chippewa- Michigan- state&lake-from word meaning great lake- Indian loan of place name
45 Iroquois- Lake Ontario- from word meaning sparkling or beautiful water- Indian loan of place name
46 Iroquois- Lake Erie- from word for long tail in referenc to the wildcat- Indian loan of place name
47 Chippewa- Wisconsin- state-gathering of the waters or grassy place- Indian loan of place name
48 Otoe or Omaha- Nebraska- state-flat or spreading water, ref. to Platte River- Indian loan of place name
49 Iowa– Iowa- state-from tribal land and river meaning beautiful land or sleepy ones- Indian loan of place name
50 Southwest Missouri- state&river-from tribal name meaning those with dugout canoes- Indian loan of place name
51 Sioux Kansas- state-tribe meaning people of the south wind- Indian loan of place name
52 Delaware Wyoming- state-from word meaning upon the great plain or large meadow- Indian loan of place name
53 Pima Arizona- state-from word meaning little spring placep Indian loan of place name
54 Ute Utah- state-from Eutaw meaning in the mountaintops or high up- Indian loan of place name

(North American Indian Culture, 2004 revised 2008)informational map from National Geographic
Edited by Clark C, E. P. (2008). Language-introductory readings. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins.
Hill, R. B. (1979). Hanta Yo. NY: Warner Books with Doubleday & Company Inc.

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