By Justin Neely, CPN Language Department Director
June 1 marked my 16th anniversary here at the Tribe. A lot has changed in those 16 years of teaching Potawatomi, and before coming to the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, I also taught for two school years at the Nah Tah Wahsh School in Wilson, Michigan, for the Hannahville Potawatomi Tribe.
During my time as the director of language, we have successfully written and received three Administration for Native Americans language grants: two for two years and one for three years.
We are currently working with a 1-year United States Department of Agriculture language grant of $200,000 to develop a series of children’s books, which will include 12 books for level 1 and level 2.
One grant was used to create the first ever online Potawatomi language course with beginner 1, beginner 2 and intermediate courses, and has been used by over 2,000 students.
We have developed two different modules on memrise.com: A Day in the Life and Conversational Potawatomi. We also created a Potawatomi high school course — the first of its kind — which is available throughout Oklahoma and counts toward the world language credit required for graduation. The class is now offered in Wanette, Shawnee, Tecumseh, Maud and starting next year, Seminole. We are always looking for additional partners, and there is no cost to the school districts.
We have a Potawatomi Language Facebook group with more than 5,000 members that shares language and does live classes. You can find the group at cpn.news/langfb.
I became the first language director to have the department lead lessons at the CPN Child Development Center. Today, our staff teaches at the two CPN Child Development Centers Monday through Thursday, and students vary from 1-year-olds all the way to the afterschool students who age out at 10.
We also started two different YouTube channels, one geared toward children and one geared toward adults. Each channel has over 150 videos with about 600 subscribers. You can find the channels at cpn.news/langyt and cpn.news/childrenyt.
With the help of IT programmers, we designed an online Potawatomi dictionary (potawatomidictionary.com) with all kinds of innovative features including video, historical audio, cultural significance, tags (groupings), related words and literal meanings. There is also the ability to download and print Potawatomi to English or English to Potawatomi for free.
We wrote and created a children’s puppet show, Mtek Wigwam, about a group of friends and their misadventures. Each episode adds more and more Potawatomi. (New episodes will be coming soon.) Find the show at cpn.news/childrenyt.
We have also used public domain films and dubbed them in their entirety into Potawatomi, and we could be the first to do this in an Indigenous language. We have done the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 50-minute cartoon, the 1939 Gulliver’s Travels that is 1 hour 15 minutes, the classic Night of the Living Dead in black and white that is over an hour, two Popeye the Sailor Man cartoons, Woody Woodpecker, Superman and a number of others as well as cultural teaching videos with puppets that explain the importance of the eagle, the stars, how we use tobacco and Indian time, just to mention a few. All are featured on the two YouTube channels.
After all this time, we have so much still to do. My No. 1 priority has always been to make the language accessible to all who wish to learn. We will be hosting our first live, 10-week beginner class starting Wednesday, July 14 at 6 p.m. at the Cultural Heritage Center. As always, we will plan on streaming these classes live in case others would like to attend. We also are doing a beginner class right now on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in our Potawatomi Language Facebook group starting at 9 a.m. CST, unless there is a change, for the next 10 weeks. If you are just getting this information, don’t worry. Each class is archived in our Facebook group so you can watch them after the fact and jump right into the new class. Please RSVP for the live, in-person class so we can get a little head count. We will need to make some accommodations for the ongoing pandemic, such as spreading out seating and etc. You can find the Facebook group at cpn.news/langfb, and you can RSVP for the upcoming in-person class by emailing me at email@example.com.