by Kai Teague
Language is a means of communication and can take many forms, shapes, colors, and sounds. Language is essentially a code embedded with meaning. Meaning is derived from our experiences in life. In order to learn a different language, it is likely you 1) have to be exposed to the language consistently and over time and it is likely you are 2) being exposed to the ways of life, the environment, the culture, the values, beliefs, and perspectives that informed the meaning that shaped that language.
Perspectives, morals, and values are all based on the experience of someone, or a story someone was told. We have to ask who told that story, what their intention was, and what experiences shaped how they make sense of the world.
These perceptions inform how someone understands the occupancy of space or what is and isn’t right or acceptable. Those worldviews become a system of beliefs, which someone relies on to determine laws, policies, and systems of governance that can reshape by force, the languages, cultures, beliefs, and values of others.
If there is an experience that Indigenous, black, disabled, intersex, and transgender people can share, it is that to exist in this world you have to know the languages and experiences of your own existence, and the language of the cisgendered, white, heteronormative, able-bodied person.
Indigenous languages are verb or action-based languages. Indigenous languages are alive, describing something in process, something one experiences with the senses and in a specific place and at a specific time.
“Culture is coded wisdom, wisdom that has been accumulated for thousands of years and generations. Some of that wisdom is coded in our ceremonies, it is coded in our values, it is coded in our songs, our dances.” -Wangari Maathai, Taking Root
When we engage with our relatives (seasons, energies, wind, rain, heat, seeds, plants, and animals) using our Indigenous languages, we can ask them who they are, how they exist, what their names are. We can also ask them if they can help us, and if we can help them, if they can feed us, and if they need to be fed. We can communicate with one another, and we can get to know what other relationships they might have. With our Indigenous languages, and in our Indigenous minds and hearts, everything changes, and our needs might not always take precedence.
There are and have been simultaneous political acts through legislation and resource determination that work to disempower and displace Indigenous Peoples all over the world. Ultimately, what continues to affect us is how this influences how we think of ourselves and how we perceive our own cultures and relationships to the world around us. And now, our Indigenous knowledge and values have been supplemented with many other things that distance us from what we knew—our original understandings.
“You cannot enslave a mind that knows itself, that values itself, and that understands itself.” Wangari Maathai, Taking Root
Read Part 2: The Land: Thoughts Into Action