So . . . a Kaw, Quapaw, Osage, Omaha and Ponca walk into a conference together . . . sounds like the beginning of a crazy joke, right? The point is, all of those tribes mentioned above are all part of the Dhegiha Siouxan language group. Meaning: we all speak variations/dialect of the same language. Awesome blossom right? I think so too.
I had read about this “language connection” some time back but had nothing tangible to base it on. Sure, black and white text can illustrate similarities until the buffalos come home; but I wanted to hear, see, and feel these similarities.
Cue flashback: the Osage Nation Language Department took a trip to visit our Omaha relatives up north in Macy, Neb., a few years back and we spent a better part of a day comparing notes, visiting schools where immersion techniques were being used, and visiting. It was very surreal to be in another town, state, and tribal community where our language was being used in everything around us. To being up on the walls in a head start to sharing it with community members, elders and us.
I kept waiting for Rod Serling from the Twilight Zone to step out at any point and say, “You're traveling through another language dimension – a language dimension not only of gestures and pronunciation but of sound. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's a signpost up ahead. Your next stop: the Dhegiha Language Speaking Zone!”
This is the ultimate fantasy for a language community to reach out beyond their own fish bowl, jump into another’s and expand our existing word base. To think we have that luxury – and believe me, it is a luxury.
So what would it look like if we got all our Dhegiha language speakers together to talk about what we are doing with our languages? We could ask each other what our strengths, weaknesses, common obstacles are; student’s perspectives; technology; and most importantly, establishing our similarities.
I’ll tell you that on my personal wish list, it is hoped that our Osage Orthography, or as everyone lovingly refers to as “the symbols,” would be shared by all our Dhegiha speakers. Can you imagine the possibilities?! For obvious “tonal” reasons, this may not be as feasible as it sounds, but with some “tweaking” it is a possibility and an option; and people love options. Our orthography is our sovereignty and we continually build community through our language.
So here it is folks, we are having the first ever, well . . . not since we were running into one another on the Southern Plains centuries ago, Dhegiha Gathering at Down Stream Casino in Quapaw country, August 2-3, 2011. We don’t know what this great and powerful linguistic concoction will produce, but it’s going to happen, and quite frankly, it’s about time.
For more information, please see our Web site at: www.osagetribe.com/language, click on the Dhegiha button, below the language library.