By Justin Neely, CPN Language Department Director

We had a great turnout for our annual winter storytelling event, even after we had to move it to Friday, March 1, due to extreme weather conditions. We had about 50 people join us and over 240 people watch the livestream in the Potawatomi language Facebook group. Migwetch (thank you) to my staff for making this a great event as always.

2019 language fair

We are preparing to take a group of kids to the annual Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair held at the Sam Noble Museum in Norman, Oklahoma, April 1st.

This year, we are bringing kids from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Child Development Center, and we know of students from Moore and Shawnee who submitted posters. Also for the first time ever, a group of kids from Will Rogers Elementary will be participating and singing Girls Just Want To Have Fun in Potawatomi. We are excited for this new partnership with Will Rogers and want to commend Mrs. Serena Neely, the Indian education adviser, for making sure her students are exposed to the language and have an opportunity to be part of this exciting event.

Language app

We just finished a partnership with Duolingo, which is a popular online learning app. I told a short, seven-page story in Potawatomi about my experiences learning the language. This is a new tool that Duolingo is developing, and they have been actively reaching out to Native communities. We are happy we could offer some advice for future endeavors and partner up on this new, innovative development.

1870 dictionary

Last month, we completed transcribing an 1870s Potawatomi dictionary originally written by Maurice Gailland. The project totaled 550 pages.

The original dictionary was handwritten in cursive and was quite hard to read at times. Also, much of the 1870s English was quite dated and required a dictionary in order to understand. Now, this searchable document will serve as an excellent tool for finding and analyzing old words that may have fallen out of use. It will also serve as a sort of Rosetta Stone as we take on the daunting task of translating the Potawatomi bible and prayer book one day, also written by Father Gailland.


We have two exciting ongoing projects. One is transcribing the handwritten medical journal of Joseph Napoleon Bourassa. Bourassa was an important leader, traditional healer, translator and author of both a dictionary of Potawatomi and a book on Wabaunsee. This project has allowed us to explore the sometimes overlooked field of ethnobotany. We are lucky to have collaborated with Kaya DeerInWater for this project.

Kaya is a Ph.D. student and current lead gardener of our community garden. His knowledge of plants, both by sight and scientific name, has proven invaluable on this project. Without his expertise and knowledge, it’s doubtful this project would be moving forward at a solid pace.

The second project is a searchable online dictionary. This dictionary is made possible by a partnership with the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Information Technology Department. We appreciate the department’s time and energy on this project, which is being developed from the ground up. When complete, it will have a number of features including historical audio files, cultural context and video.

Unique features

The historic audio files allow us to showcase how a word is said by a number of different first-language speakers. This is very useful in case the person using the dictionary is from a community with a certain dialect. It is also nice to be able to hear those grandmas and grandpas of yesteryears say the words.

We are able to have five or six files on each word, and we also can attach audio files to the example sentences. This process will take time, but we will be diligently working weekly on it. Currently, we have over 8,500 words in the dictionary and over 700 unique audio files for individual entries. We also have countless historic files and example sentences, which pushes the total to well over 1,000.

The cultural context component allows us to talk about various words. For example, when someone selects tobacco or eagle, we can explain why they are important to the Potawatomi people. Within this feature, we also have a winter story button, which allows us to include winter stories like why the owl can turn his head around. When it’s not winter, we can turn this information off.

The ability to share video is another cool feature. For example, when a user clicks on the eagle, we can link to a video from the CPN Aviary staff members explaining the story of how the eagle saved the world and why the eagle is important to us. Additionally, when users select the word black ash, we can include a video highlighting the process of gathering black ash to make baskets. Yet another cool option is one for literal meaning, so if there is a deeper meaning to a word, we can include that as well.

We hope to do a soft open by the time this reaches you and release a full, completed version around the time of Family Reunion Festival. As with all dictionaries, it will never truly end. That being said, our extremely motivated programmers are working to have an app version ready by June. With the soft opening, we will be looking for feedback and constructive criticism.


Former Potawatomi Leadership Program participant William McCurley is currently interning in the language department. He has been spearheading our resource development process. We have been working with a number of public domain books such as Peter Rabbit that are available in creative commons for reproduction and translation. Igwien (special thank you) to William for his hard work.


We are also working on doing a number of public domain movies for our YouTube channels. We have one for adults and one for children. We also have an original children’s show, Mtek wigwam, about a group of friends who build a tree house and go on different misadventures such as looking for Bigfoot.

Children will be introduced to a number of words in Potawatomi each episode, hearing them in English and Potawatomi. After hearing them a number of times, the English words are eventually replaced with just Potawatomi. So that after 10 or so shows, we hope the show will mostly be in Potawatomi.

Along with all these projects, Language Aide Enedina Banks, Intern William Mccurley and Audio Visual Production Specialist Michael Kelehar keep busy teaching four days a week at the CPN Child Development Center. Staff manage our online learning courses, our two courses on and our high school course available anywhere in Oklahoma. They also lead on-site classes for beginners and intermediate students, which are livestreamed in our Potawatomi language Facebook group, and we are often asked to tell stories to kids and do opening prayers for various events at the Tribe.

We hope that you will take advantage of the many tools we have developed and are developing to make learning our language something you can do no matter where in the country or world you are currently living.