Sleeping Language Waking Up Thanks to Wampanoag Reclamation Project
It’s been more than 300 years since Wampanoag was the primary spoken language in Cape Cod. But, if Wampanoag tribal members keep their current pace, that may not be true for much longer.
Tribal members have been signing up for classes with the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project while families and students have been attending summer language camps. Now plans are underway for the Wampanoag Language Public Charter School, expected to open in August 2015 to serve kindergarten through third grade.
Jennifer Weston, charter coordinator, spoke with awe about the changes she’s seen. “It’s been amazing what has taken place here over the last 12 years. Now there is a generation raising their children as speakers who will never know the language was sleeping.”
When Weston, Dakota from Standing Rock, South Dakota, first arrived in Massachusetts, she was amazed to see so much of the language represented in daily life, as the names of streets, towns, and rivers. “It really jumped out at me when I first moved here. It’s so different from South Dakota, how all of the places here are in the language.”
Jessie Little Doe Baird, the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project’s founder and director, said it’s probably been 100 years since there was a fluent Wampanoag speaker, but already there are 15 people who have measurable speaking abilities. “It speaks to the truly ancient ones, that they are not willing to be forgotten,” Weston said.
Those ancient ones reached out to Baird, the recently elected vice president of the Mashpee Nation. In 1993, Baird began having dreams in the language she saw on the street and town signs. In one dream, she was told to ask the tribal members if they wanted the language to come back. The answer was a resounding yes.
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