By Justin Neely, CPN Language Department Director
The Language Department just wrapped up a seven-week beginner language class taught by Stormy Rhodd and Ragan Marsee. The class was also streamed live and archived on our Potawatomi Language YouTube channel where it can be accessed later. We have always been big advocates for using technology to multiply our efforts. If we teach a class onsite, we reach maybe 25 to 30 people. If we teach that same class on Zoom, we may add another 50 people to that number, and if we also post the class on YouTube, we have the ability to reach many hundreds more.
Sticking to this philosophy, we realize that boarding schools and the trauma associated with them has affected entire generations of people. Many times, our parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents were taken away from their families and taught a foreign language and culture then returned to their communities at 18 in an attempt to destroy our culture.
We are still here. Today’s generation is being taken away from our culture and language with technology. When our children and grandchildren turn on the TV or listen to the radio, they hear Chemokmanmowen (English). When they play video games or use social media, they hear Chemokmanmowen.
To combat this and to make our language and culture more accessible to our Tribal members who live far from Shawnee, we have created a number of tools for folks to access. We have two different courses on memrise.com. We have an online dictionary at potawatomidictionary.com with over 10,000 words, 70 percent of them with sound recordings. We have a Facebook group with over 6,200 people in it where we often share language and will occasionally do live impromptu classes. We also teach the language through our older Moodle program while we are slowly transitioning to a new platform called Tovuti.
Currently, the language is one of nine Indigenous languages being taught in high schools throughout Oklahoma for world language credit. If you have a son, daughter or grandchild who attends an Oklahoma high school, they can choose to take Potawatomi for world language credit for graduation instead of French, Spanish or German. Robert Collins in the Language Department is also partnering with our Department of Education to offer the language at the collegiate level. Though in the early stages, we have developed partnerships with more than six universities with high populations of Potawatomi students to offer the language in their course catalogues.
We recently have been recognized on a number of news stations in Oklahoma for a project in which we partnered with Google called Woolaroo. You go to the Woolaroo website, choose Potawatomi from the 17 languages it offers, and then start the program. It uses your camera and artificial intelligence technology to recognize various objects. Then it gives you the word and audio of the pronunciation in Potawatomi. We are the only Indigenous tribe in the United States or Canada to partner with Google on this. Seventeen less commonly spoken languages across the world were involved, such as Māori, Sicilian and Louisiana Creole.
We also are continuing work on a book project for children. We plan to have 12 total books completed by the end of November. We gave out the first four at this year’s Festival and will give more away next year. We are also beginning to mail out books to those who signed up. It took us a little time, but we found a very cost-effective way to mail that will save the Tribe over $2,800. So, we appreciate folks’ patience who did sign up for books. They will have QR codes at the back so that kids or parents can hear the books read in Potawatomi and English.
Finally, in an attempt to make more content available, we are constantly creating public domain films, skits, learning videos and cultural teachings in the language and placing them on one of our two YouTube sites, which can be found by searching “Justin Neely” and “Potawatomi Language.” There are over 300 videos on each site. We have taken several public domain movies/cartoons and translated them in Potawatomi with captions in English, also a version with Potawatomi captions and one with no captions. These include films like the Christmas classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which is about 50 minutes long; Gulliver’s Travels, at 1 hour 15 minutes; Superman; The Woody Woodpecker Show; Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd cartoons; Popeye the Sailor and countless other movies/cartoons.