This article details an unfortunate situation in Shawano, Wisconsin, wherein a young woman, Miranda Washinawatok, was punished for speaking Menominee, her native language, in school.
This is outrageous considering the long and violent oppression of indigenous peoples in the United States, as well as the linguistic imperialism which has decimated the linguistic diversity of the continent. The shaming laid on this young woman by the authority figures in her school has caused many people in the past to abandon their language entirely.
I believe the teacher could have handled this much better. If she had been concerned about the content of the girl’s speech, she needed to discuss with the student, her parents and the administration before unilaterally taking up the mantel of shame perpetuator. It probably wouldn’t hurt to learn at least a few words in the local language.
Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Shawano could use this incident to engage the issue of indigenous language maintenance and revitalisation efforts by issuing a real apology to Ms. Washinawatok and working with the Menominee community to both discuss historical language policy and spread awareness of the challenges faced by indigenous communities trying to preserve their languages and cultures.
Language is a very central part of identity expression: we do this in our selections of not only language, but dialect and register. The right to maintain and develop indigenous languages is assured by the Native American Languages Act. No one should be shamed for the use of their native language.