Alaska Dispatch: They ripped out our tongues: Language loss, historic trauma and HB 216

Here. A powerful article, and an excerpt:

I couldn’t leave what they said alone, unchallenged, so I posted the following reply, slightly edited and expanded here.

I don’t know how to respond politely, but your comment can only be described as woefully misinformed.

Was I beaten as a child if I spoke my Native language (Tlingit)? No. As a child, did I personally have to beat other children who dared to speak their Native language, beat them until they were bloody? Beat them as hard as I could because if I did not hit them harder, harder, then I would be the one that got the beating. No. Was my mouth washed out with lye soap if I spoke Tlingit, soap that burns your tongue and lips? No. Was I put in a small metal box baking in the hot Oregon sun for hours on end, with no room to stand, my skin burning, blistering, peeling when it came into contact with the hot metal? No. I did not directly suffer any of those things. But my grandparents did. And many of our parents and grandparents did, in the boarding schools. We did not lose our language, it was beaten out of us. There are stories of young boys showing up to these boarding schools, 5 year old boys in some cases, who spoke their Native language fluently, but it was slowly beaten out of them; later, when their classmates saw them, they asked if they still spoke their language, and these boys, now men, got angry and declared they had never spoken their Native language. It was completely torn out of them.


It is reprehensible to say that we chose not to speak our languages. Our parents and grandparents chose not to teach us, it is true, but only because they were afraid we would be treated as badly as they were, that we would be punished like they were for being Native, for speaking their language. It makes me furious to hear you say I don’t speak my language because I don’t want to. There is nothing in the world I want more than to speak Tlingit. But that opportunity was stolen from me by the missionaries, by the boarding schools, by the government men. Our languages were ripped from our mouths. They ripped our tongues out.

Shame on you for blaming us for what happened! I have no other words to describe what you’ve written then shameful. Educate yourself. There is much more to the story than you appear to know. But we know it. We lived it. We’re living it now. Trust us when we say we want it, more than anything. That language is the heart of our cultures. That our cultures are beautiful and worth saving, that our languages are beautiful and worth saving.

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