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Language Department update: December 2018

By Justin Neely, Director of the CPN Language Department

As we head into December, it has been a busy fall for the CPN Language Department. We are finishing two adult classes, which were taught in person and streamed live in the Potawatomi Language group on Facebook. What’s nice about this is folks who don’t live in the area can still enjoy a live class. Video of the class is archived in the group, allowing students who attended to go back and watch it later.

We are currently finishing up initial production of a children’s puppet show. The show centers around a group of friends who want to build a mtek wigwam (tree house). The friends find a tree and begin construction. The storyline follows other adventures they have such as searching for Bigfoot. The show has a definite Potawatomi flair to it while incorporating the language. We will add a word like, “Bozho” and then say, “Hi,” or “Wik mowen,” for “It is going to rain”. After the word has been used three or four times in an episode, it is replaced entirely by the Potawatomi word.

The name of the characters are their animal names in Potawatomi such as mko (bear), kokoko (owl) and kno (eagle) so that kids will repeatedly hear the names of the various animals. In each episode, we add additional words and phrases. We also continue using the phrases and words from previous episodes so that eventually the show can be almost entirely in Potawatomi.

We also have crazy commercials, news reports and other things built into the show. We plan on having the first five episodes done by the first of the year. We hope to complete approximately 20 episodes, which will be released on our YouTube channel and in the Potawatomi Language group on Facebook.

Another exciting project we have been working on is taking movies and cartoons and putting them in Potawatomi. We put out a Casper the Friendly Ghost episode right before Halloween. There are a number of movies and shows which have entered public domain, so look for these to come out in the near future.

Our staff is doing an awesome job bringing the language into the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Child Development Center. We are also thankful for Donnette and her staff for allowing this to happen. Rarely a day goes by where I don’t hear a positive comment about our language department staff of Enedina Banks and Randy Schlactun. My youngest daughters come home singing from the CDC classes that Randy and Enedina lead. So an igwien (sincere thanks) is in order for their outstanding work and commitment to our language and people.

Their excellent teaching has allowed me to focus on a number of video scripts to shoot and time to transcribe an 1868 Potawatomi dictionary of 700 pages written in cursive. I am typing it out in a Microsoft Word document that is searchable and then analyzing the words. Even the English of 1868 is challenging and often needs definition. I have found I will often know the Potawatomi before the English because in our language, I understand how to break words apart in what is a very descriptive and vivid language.

I am also currently instructing the Potawatomi language courses in public schools in Wannette with the hope of adding Tecumseh High School for the spring semester. If other districts in Oklahoma would like the language offered, it is a self-paced online course and would only require the students to have computer access and a teacher to sit with them while they take the class. A variation of this course was taught at St. Gregory’s University in the past. I hope to have the dictionary project wrapped up in an initial format and evaluated by early 2019. We will then make it available to others who would like to peruse it.

In terms of upcoming events, it is nearing the time for the Christmas program with the CDC students. The 3-year-olds will sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and the 4 and 5-year-olds will sing Let It Snow. The after-school students will also perform, but we have not determined what song it will be yet.

In February, look for our annual winter storytelling event. It is always well attended. There are a number of traditional stories that we are only allowed to tell in the wintertime, preferably when there is snow on the ground.

Also in the spring, we will be hosting another beginner class taught by Randy and an intermediate class taught by me. We would also like to have an intern perhaps for the spring semester or summer. Last year, Katherine Ferguson interned with us. She had the opportunity to learn the language as well as help with a couple of story projects by doing original artwork. We hope that we can find another student who would be interested in working with us, perhaps this summer. We are also in the early development stages of an online searchable dictionary with audio. Please contact me if you are interested at jneely@potawatomi.org.

Don’t forget: if you want to learn our language, we have a number of resources at your disposal. We have online, self-paced Beginner I, Beginner II and intermediate courses. We also have two separate courses on Memrise.com. Although this is an app, it’s hard to find if you don’t go to the computer version first. We also have a children’s page and YouTube channel at cpn.news/JN as well as our already mentioned Facebook group called “Potawatomi Language.” We also have a dictionary with about 5,200 words available for download and a page with cultural teachings, which is quite popular.

Many of these can be found at potawatomi.org/language.

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