Growing up in a traditional community, I did not go to school to learn my language. I learned it at home. I was surrounded by it from my mother’s womb. I learned to speak naturally as a toddler, listening to the baby talk and colloquialisms of the day. I was able to converse in 5 Neshnabék languages by the time I was six. Multilingualism was the norm of the day, when everyone spoke each other’s language and could understand what was said in one language while responding in another. Mutual communication and respect of each other’s differences was inherent among us.
I first learned English at the age of 6…at school. I did not just take English lessons. I was immersed in it. Every communication I had with my teachers, my peers, the bus drivers, the lunch ladies, the aides and custodians, all had to be in the target language: English. So I learned quickly, not because I had a set of 12 easy lessons, but because it was required for my survival.
I remember with some sadness the first time I met Neshnabék people who did not speak their language. As a young man, I approached a group of people who clearly looked “Indian” to me, only to find with much dismay that they could not understand any of the languages that I spoke. They only understood English. That first experience led to many, and I have witnessed first hand the decline and near disappearance of the languages of my childhood.
I have been steadfastly working with anyone who will take the time to learn the Potawatomi language for most of my life, from that first group of Neshnabék who asked me to translate what I had said to them, until this very moment of publishing this particular manual and many other manuals I have done. Having observed all of this, I have this statement to make:
This language must be returned to the home.
It was only by survival that it was permitted to go into language classrooms and departments and classes and lessons. That had to be, temporarily, because it was so far gone, it needed to be pulled out of the fire, so to speak. But the time has come to return it to the home. This manual is intended to be used AT HOME, by families who are dedicated to learning, remembering, and using this language.
Nin se Neaseno
A.k.a. Donald A Perrot