Apr 242008

Tonight my youngest son mailed me a link to this page from NPR, “Letter Men: Brothers Fight for Ojibwe Language.” It was an interesting interview.

I have one of Anton Treuer’s books. It’s the one he read from during the interview: “Living Our Language: Ojibwe Tales & Oral Histories” (2001). It’s a bilingual book, with Ojibwe on one side and the English on the other. When I pulled it down from my bookshelf, I found that the page he had read from was bookmarked with a yellow sticky-note. But I don’t know why the bookmark was where it was. It has been at least a couple of years since I looked at the book. I did recognize a few Ojibwe words as Mr. Treuer read, but not enough to catch any meaning.

I do not yet have his book, “Omaa Akiing,” but one thing I already like about it is the title, because I know what it means just from what I learned on the Pimsleur Ojibwe course. At least I think it means approximately “Here on Earth.” Maybe it has some other, more subtle meaning, too, that I don’t know about.

I wish the interviewer had asked some additional questions, like what does Mr. Treuer think of outsiders learning the language? Do any non-Anishinaabe people take his course at Bemidji State? If so, what do the elders and other speakers think of that.

One reason I would ask is because I used to take part in a Ojibwe discussion group on Yahoo groups. But it seemed that the ratio of non-Anishinaabe to Anishinaabe was pretty high, and it was resented by some of the people on the list. There were those who thought the language should be learned orally, from the elders. I decided to withdraw, rather than contribute to the problem.

I would like to learn more Ojibwe, but right now I’m more interested in learning Russian. If there was anyone to talk to, it might be different.

I might also be interested in reading some of David Treuer’s books. I read very little fiction, but it was fascinating to read some of what I found on his blog, such as this:

Q: You’ve drawn some fairly critical attention for your nonfiction book, Native American Fiction: A User’s Manual. To what extent do you think Native American identity shapes your—or anyone else’s—literary endeavors?

A: Well, charting the exact ratio of “identity” to “influence”—that is, the degree to which the author’s identity matters and the degree to which the books we’ve read, the people we know, the schools we’ve attended, the jobs we’ve had, the TV shows we like, the tragedies (communal and individual) we’ve endured, the hearts we’ve broken, the times our own hearts have been bruised matters—seems kind of pointless after a certain point. Obviously one’s personal identity (largely a fiction of our own making “drawn from life”) is hugely important . . . to the person. As for books, as for literary endeavors, well that’s the strange magic of books, isn’t it? They somehow exist inside us and outside us at the same time. They are of us, but they are always “of” other books, too. I think it would be tragic to only or even mostly interpret Hamlet as an expression of “English-ness” or of Shakespeare’s identity as an “English man.” It would rob Hamlet of its magic and wouldn’t help explain in any lasting way why the play is important and moving to many people. The same goes for Beloved. And The Magic Mountain. And A Boy’s Own Story. And The English Patient. But this is exactly what happens more often than not to Native American stories. The result: “red-faced minstrelsy.” Speaking of the book I am working on now: it is as much a mixture of my self, my love, my ambition, my people, my tastes—running from Thomas Mann to Christina Aguilera and back again—and my devotion to my craft as anything I’ve ever written.

Fascinating to find him speaking of just taking the work for what it says. Seems to me that C.S. Lewis had some things to say like that.