Enwejig Indigenous Language Advocates

Photo: Jeff Miller/UW-Madison. About this canoe.

Mission statement

We are committed to bringing visibility and linguistic justice to Indigenous languages at UW-Madison. Our goal is to honor Indigenous knowledge systems through raising awareness of the importance of Indigenous languages among the UW-Madison community and beyond.
Examples of our activities include (but are not limited to):

  • forging respectful community-based research partnerships with the language programs of Wisconsin’s Native Nations
  • partnering with Wisconsin’s Native Nations and the Committee on Native American Campus Signage to develop signs bringing Indigenous language to public view
  • making aspects of Indigenous language part of teaching and learning at the UW
  • advocating for Indigenous language classes at the UW
  • creating a more welcoming environment for Indigenous students

What does enwejig mean?

Enwejig is an Ojibwe word that means ‘those who speak’. The name honors the speakers and learners of Indigenous languages.

The Enwejig Indigenous languages working group was named by the late master Ojibwe speaker Edward Benton-Banai of the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation in northern Wisconsin. As a means of expressing the unique sound, meaning, and characteristic manner of speaking an Indigenous language, Eddie first suggested using Inwewin as a summary term. In recognition of the dynamic efforts of Indigenous language speakers, learners, and allies to revitalize language, he later recommended the term Enwejig – ‘those who speak’ – to capture the contemporary work of all of those actively engaged in speaking a Native language as a means of renewal, solidarity, and continuity between the past and future.

Enwejig’s talking points: Why Indigenous languages are important

“Language is the key to everything” – Ron (Muqsahkwat) Corn, Jr., Menominee language immersion instructor

  • Identity: Native languages are a major part of Native identity. Having a strong, positive sense of identity is critical to having a positive self-image.
  • Linguistic Justice: It is imperative to restore language to people from whom it was stolen, and in the same spirit, empower those generations who were denied the opportunity to learn and speak because of colonial linguicide.
  • Human rights: All people everywhere have an inherent right to speak their language and practice their culture, and language loss/shift is a symptom of infringement upon that right.
Photo: Andrea Cudworth
  • Sovereignty: “The connection between language, culture, identity, and sovereignty is a powerful consideration for … Indigenous nations. Language revitalization is a fundamental act of asserting tribal sovereignty.” (McInnes 2014: 757)
  • Shared Heritage of the Americas: Indigenous languages are valuable to the people who speak them, and they are also inherently valuable to the rest of the world as part of our shared human heritage and experience. Whether Indigenous to this continent, or from a people who came from somewhere else, the land and its names and stories are something we now share by virtue of residence. There is nothing more quintessentially and authentically “North American” than the local wisdom, stories, and language of the first peoples of the land. All people who walk and live in Indigenous territories today have an obligation to learn some of this rich knowledge.
Photo: Sarah Lundquist, Location: Menominee Reservation
  • Mental and Physical Health: Studies have shown that Indigenous communities in Canada and the U.S. with stronger continuity of their traditional languages and cultural practices have lower rates of a range of physical and mental health issues such as diabetes, substance abuse, and suicide.
  • Science: Indigenous languages are repositories of vast amounts of highly specific knowledge (e.g., astronomical, botanical, ecological, historical, medicinal, linguistic).
  • Place-names: Indigenous place-names open space for dialogue about the entwined nature of American and Indigenous histories and how we all understand our own place within our communities and larger society. Recognizing Indigenous place-names allows us to re-evaluate our relationships to land and each other.

Who we are

  • Joanna Bundus, Postdoctoral fellow, Department of Integrative Biology
  • Ryan Henke, Assistant Professor, Language Sciences
Artwork: Potawatomi Traveling Times, Dictionary available at www.fcpotawatomi.com/products/
  • Sarah Lundquist, PhD Candidate, Language Sciences
  • Monica Macaulay, Professor, Language Sciences
  • Sterling Martin, Diné, Navajo Nation, PhD candidate, Biophysics Graduate Training Program, Department of Integrative Biology
  • Brian McInnes, Associate Professor, Civil Society and Community Studies / American Indian Studies (Wasauksing Ojibwe, Wisconsin Potawatomi)
  • Omar Poler, Indigenous Education Coordinator, Office of the Provost / School of Education (Sokaogon Chippewa Community)
  • Diego Roman, Assistant Professor, Curriculum and Instruction
  • Sasha Suarez, Assistant Professor, History / American Indian Studies (White Earth Ojibwe descent)
  • Kristen Whitson, Program Assistant, WiLS/Recollection WI; Volunteer, Ho-Chunk Language Division

Current projects

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  • Project ENABLE: The goal of Project ENABLE is to bolster the usage of Diné bízaad by incorporating new words that will allow speakers to use Diné bízaad while talking about biology in the classroom and beyond. Sterling Martin and Joanna Bundus are working with high school biology teachers on Dinétah, a website designer, and a Diné language expert to identify and translate 245 terms that reflect foundational biology concepts into Diné bízaad.
 These words, their definitions, and examples of how they could be used in sentences will be curated on a website designed to work on both cell phones and computers in areas with low internet connectivity.
  • Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums (TLAM): The TLAM Project is an effort at SLIS, the iSchool at UW-Madison to bring indigenous information to LIS education through coursework, service-learning, continuing education, community-building, networking, resource sharing, and long term partnerships with American Indian cultural institutions.
  • Nisinoon: an NSF-funded cross-linguistic database of the components which make up words in Algonquian languages (work supported by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate School and the National Science Foundation DLI-DEL program under grant number BCS1953103, PI Monica Macaulay).

Resources

Readings

Links

Photo: Diego Román, Location: College of Menominee Nation, Keshena, WI

Language Acknowledgment

UW-Madison occupies Teejop, land inextricably connected to the Ho-Chunk people and their sacred language, Hoocąk, since time immemorial. Enwejig acknowledges the deep Ho-Chunk love for their language, and honors all those who speak and care for the Indigenous languages of Wisconsin. These other languages include: Huluníixsuwaakun (Munsee), Ojibwemowin/Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), Mamāceqtaweqnaesen/Oma͞eqnomenēweqnaesen (Menominee), Mã’eekuneeweexthowãakun (Mohican), Bodwéwadmimwen/Neshnabémwen (Potawatomi), and Ukwehuwehnéha (Oneida). Languages are key to the past, present, and future well-being of Indigenous nations. Collectively, we share an exigent responsibility to arrest language loss due to settler-colonialism; support revitalization efforts; and seek linguistic justice for Indigenous peoples.