the Wampanoag could bring back their language without a single Native
speaker, then anything is possible, Anne Makepeace, the creator
of a documentary about the revitalization of the Wôpanâak
language said. I think this film can serve as a cautionary tale
for Native people whose languages are endangered and a model of inspiration
for those working to preserve and revitalize their languages.
The Wampanoag people greeted and helped
the Pilgrims but ultimately lost most of their land; their language
had not been spoken in a century.
We Still Live Here Âs Nutayuneân,
opens with Jesse Little Doe Baird (Mashpee Wampanoag) driving past
Wampanoag place name signs while traveling from Mashpee to the ferry
for Marthas Vineyard. Baird lives there in a home built by
her husband, Jason Baird, who is also the medicine man of the Wampanoag
Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), and their 6-year-old daughter, who
is now the first Wampanoag to speak their ancestral language from
While waiting for the ferry, Baird, who
has been speaking Wampanoag for over a decade, tells us of her visions:
It was prophesied that language would go away from us and
when the appointed time came, there would be a way made for the
language to return.
She explains that the ancestors requested
her to first ask other Wampanoag people whether they wanted the
language home. She asked the groups (beginning with Mashpee and
Aquinnah) and it was agreed they wanted to bring their language
home. Her question brought communities together and this never
happens, Baird said, smiling.
Baird had been co-director since 1993
of the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project (with Helen
Manning, Aquinnah Wampanoag, now deceased). Baird ultimately earned
a masters degree in linguistics in 2000 at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT), working alongside scholar of indigenous
languages Ken Hale, a descendant of colonists. The filmmaker is
also a descendant of colonists who stole their land,
Initially angry that she would need the
help of a white man to take the next steps for her language
programs, Bairds dreams clarified that the descendants of
those who broke the circle of language would be vital to close the
Last September, Bairds work was
recognized with a MacArthur Foundation genius grant of $500,000.
That same week, The Wôpanâak Language Project was awarded
a $530,000 federal grant.
The foundation wrote, Wampanoag
was spoken by tens of thousands of people in southeast New England
when 17th century Puritans/missionaries learned the language, rendered
it phonetically in the Roman alphabet and used it to translate the
King James Bible for the purpose of conversion. Baird
precious links to our nations complex past.
Makepeaces film shows some of the
original documents written in Wampanoag that Baird used to create
her dictionary, grammar, and school lessons: deeds, letters, petitions,
even notes in the margins of family bibles. Bairds dedication
is captured in the documentary; you may find yourself whispering
your own first new phrases. The documentary shows how Baird learns
new words using vowel and pronunciation charts, and dictionaries
from one of the 40 Algonquian languages that are still spoken, such
as Passamaquoddy. It also shows students in the classroom, and sometimes,
learning Wamp does not look easy.
Tobias Vanderhoop, tribal administrator,
Aquinnah, describes how children, and therefore language and culture,
were taken. The camera scans an original English document and you
read each column: An unnamed child, their sex, then age, then price
and place theyre sent. Fifteen years later, the children might
return home from servitude in places like Lexington or Cambridge.
I think it pleases the Creator,
said Eva Blake (Assonet Wampanoag), in a voice-over while the film
shows the viewer a recent Aquinnah pow wow.
Because of Bairds work, we learn
one of the many Wampanoag creation stories and Makepeace devises
a way to tell us by using a series of animations that solve the
cultural and language problem of presenting Natives dreams.
The animations were created by Ruth Lingford, professor of animation
Just this February, Baird was in Hales
hometown of Lexington, Massachusetts giving a presentation. Coming
full circle, she told a childrens story that she wrote: Sâpaheekanuhtyâtôn
(Lets Make Soup).
Visit the Makepeace
Productions website for ordering information and clips from