CC who’s Metis recently started to learn Cree. He’s been sharing his journey with us on our community aimoo site. His process has brought up some questions for me:
• Shamanism: Language where does it fit?
• Why is language so important?
• If language can touch the soul how is our soul touched by our mother tongue?
• Can bilingualism be considered a language in itself for some people?
• What is language?
Fifteen-some-years ago when I was searching to know more about my Onondaga roots I met a few people who were generous enough to offer me friendship and share with me traditional stories. Every time they would tell me a story, they would also teach me a word in the original Iroquois language. An elder, VLB who was also an incredible storyteller, said to me one evening after a circle: “ Every story holds medicine, which in turn is harboured within the words.” Like Hebrew, lots of First Nation people believe that their original languages holds spiritual wisdom and a connection to “God”.
“Nature doesn’t need words to communicate to us,” said RT, a Maliseet Medicine Man and friend, “and yet we know when the wind is whispering the arrival of a storm, or when animals are scared, excited, happy or upset.”
EC would often say that there were words in Passamaquoddy, which did not exist in the English language because it was so close to the experience of nature. I wondered if that was why VLB used Onondaga language within her stories. Maybe it was also the reason why these particular words often brought tears to my eyes as if they talked about something that I understood not with the help of my mind but with the help of my personal story or experience. In time, I adopted certain words like wolikon and tiyoweh for example because they were intertwined with specific moments and lessons in my life and meant so much more than thank you and stillness.
I figure that’s how prayers were born at some point in time…
Wikipedia defines language as the human capacity to acquire and use complex systems of communication. We (humans) may be able to speak several languages but rare are those who master the art of communicating. It’s amazing how we struggle with expressing ourselves these days. Personally I think that it’s not by lack of vocabulary or social, racial and religious knowledge. We’ve never been more equipped to talk and still, people can’t seem to communicate to each other. Obviously it’s not about the tools. Too many relationships fail because of lack of communication. I wonder at times if we wouldn’t be better served by learning how to shut up and listen…
Language is not only about words. If it was it would so much simpler to communicate. I watch the people around me and I see how they get tangled up in programs, expectations and personal issues. Often I tell my children to slow down and take a moment to identify their emotions, their expectations and their goals before talking. How am I supposed to understand what they are telling me if they haven’t taken the time to understand what they are trying to convey to me.
When you sit back and look at the whole idea of language you realize that’s it’s Creation’s way to connect details together. A drop of rain can become a bucket of water, a river, a lake, a glacier, or an ocean. It can also feed a village, drown a fly, and heal a plant. There’s a story behind everything and thus, with every inhale and exhale. Language is all about sharing this story, showing where we fit in it and how it touched us. Know the characters, know their drama, know how they react and how they act, know where they are heading and how they should get there… People often label me as a shaman, a psychic, an empath or a whisperer because I seem to know details about people; which are said “impossible to know.” My husband says “I’m a true traditional dreamer.” Ironically, I tend to believe that “if I can explain how I got from point A to point B” it’s ordinary, practical, obvious and possible for all others who want to get there. I guess what I’m really trying to say is: “language is universal, natural and cosmological.”
When humans stopped believing they were one with the universe, nature and the stars, they stopped listening and sensing; they stopped communicating; they lost access to the original language and replaced it by empty words. I was brought up speaking French and English. My parents never made a difference between the languages so much so that bilingualism became my mother tongue. I felt lost for a very long time because I felt I was neither English or French. I felt cheated of my original language. Time brought me to uncover that I wasn’t attached to the cultural elements of these languages because they were intertwined by I was touched by the soul aspect of them just as I would have been if I would have learnt Onondaga or Micmac two languages who would have been spoken by some of my distant ancestors.
I often dream words from my Wabanaki heritage. Even before I knew of the People, I knew of the language. My dreams remembered them. I was always impressed by this phenomenon. There’s so much to share on the topic of language. I think experience brings us many answers. I believe it is important to put into words what we’ve lived so that others can share the good fortune or be protected from harm or be guided to explore etc…. Communication is a great gift. I think we can learn so much about language and communication from nature but it means to listen, watch, observe and remember. Communication is a process and it needs to be learnt one day at a time. It is also a discipline that needs to be nourished with every breath, every day of our life.