Attending Family Reunion Festival as a child exposed Ragan Marsee to Bodéwadmimwen for the first time, which inspired her to connect with her Potawatomi culture and language. Today, she serves in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Language Department as an aid, teaching students Bodéwadmimwen at the Nation’s Child Development Center, and works as a visual artist to develop content for language learners of all ages.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had a strong interest (in the language),” Marsee said. “I’ve always felt the need to absorb as much as I could.”
She fondly remembers using the back of her Festival nametag to learn the fundamentals, such as bozho (hello) and migwetch (thank you).
“And then I heard (CPN Language Department Director) Justin Neely pray, and I started doing more research. Everything kind of fell into place from then on,” she said.
Dreams into reality
Marsee is from the Noble, Oklahoma, area and graduated from Norman High School in 2016. She worked in the food industry before and after graduation, never losing sight of her desire to give back to the Tribe through the language department.
“I just always felt that things were going to work out, and I was going to find my place and career within the Tribe,” she explained. “I don’t know why I felt like that, but I didn’t necessarily worry.”
One day it occurred to Marsee that she may need a position that fulfilled her desires while also providing a path for a long-term, stable career, and she decided to look for options at the Nation.
“I went on the application page for the Tribe, and the language position just happened to be there,” Marsee said.
She applied and stayed persistent, following up on every step of the process. While she waited to find out if CPN selected her for the job, Marsee wasted no time and began the work needed to succeed in the language department.
“On my days off of work, I would drive up to the CHC and walk around, reading as much as I could — absorbing as much as I could,” Marsee said. “I was obsessed with reading the words and trying to sound it out.”
Becoming part of the team
Marsee joined CPN’s workforce in September 2019. In her role, she develops and implements language-learning lessons for children at the CDC and creates visual content used across all of the department’s programs.
“Honestly, I have everything that I could ever want and desire,” she said. “I’m learning the language at my own pace, which is a huge opportunity and an advantage. I also have this massive blessing of having access to first speakers and recordings of first speakers that have passed on.”
Like many beginning their journey learning Bodéwadmimwen, pronunciations can prove difficult, especially when the language is not spoken at home or during childhood.
“That’s a huge part of language learning is hearing, and I have a speaker in the office that I’m able to hear talk all day, every day. That’s been another blessing just being able to hear it from someone else,” she said.
One of the most fulfilling parts of her career at the Nation is helping children master words and phrases through regular exposure.
“If I’m gone for a while … I can tell they’ve missed out on some of the language, and usually, it just takes five, 10 minutes to get back into the groove. But it’s really cool to see what they instinctively remember,” Marsee said.
Her classes vary from 1 to 5 years old, and one of her favorite approaches to use is total physical response. By including movement that allows the brain link words with action, TPR helps students retain new Potawatomi words and phrases by mimicking how infants learn their first words. Marsee has found her students pick up Potawatomi quickly. Many times, she does not have to translate questions or phrases into English.
“I have to really be on top of things because these kids, when they absorb the information, it’s cemented into their minds,” she said and laughed.
The Seven Fires Prophecy highlights a time when the Nishnabé will follow along the path of those who came before, picking up the pieces of culture, language and traditions that were left behind due to forced removal, assimilation, acculturation and more. Marsee is thankful for her role at CPN in helping Potawatomi language and culture flourish and grow, helping ignite the next seven generations.
“It’s the coolest thing in the world, and it brings me so much joy and pride and hope — and not pride in myself but pride in the youth and the Seventh Generation,” she said.
Learn more about the CPN Language Department and find language-learning resources at cpn.news/language.