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“Where the Rivers Come Together: Reclaiming and Re-imagining History, Identity, and Indigenous Language in the City”

November 13, 2017 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Dissertation Defense

Where the Rivers Come Together: Reclaiming and Re-imagining History, Identity, and Indigenous Language in the City

Adam M. Haviland

Monday, November 13, 2017
2:00 – 4:00 p.m.
454 Baker Hall

The movement and migration of Native Americans to urban areas is usually traced to the urbanization programs of the 1950s and 1960s. However, the recent scholarship of Coll Thrush (2007) and John Low (2016) highlights the long history of urban spaces as Indigenous spaces and the role Indigenous people and communities have played in their growth and development. Similarly, in discourses of language loss and revitalization, urban spaces and Indigenous urban communities are seen as places or endpoints of assimilation. Thus, language revitalization efforts and programs often focus on reservations as the primary domains where Indigenous languages and their speakers persist and thrive. Yet, despite settler colonial narratives of vanishing that erase Indigenous people from urban areas and modernity and language ideologies that locate Indigenous languages outside of urban areas and modernity, cities have always been important intersections of movement and migration and Indigenous spaces with deep historical roots. They are also places where Indigenous language persist and thrive as ideological markers of identity and belonging and as spoken languages.

This research shows how Lansing, Michigan, Nkwejong (the place where the rivers come together) has a long history as an Indigenous intersection and space that challenges the local settler-colonial narratives of removal and erasure. Lansing has remained an Indigenous space through traditions of movement and migration that were driven by the auto industry and educational opportunities. Through these movements, Anishinabek from reservations in and around Manitoulin Island came here in the 1960s and 1970s who were fluent speakers of Anishinaabemowin. Anishinabek from Canada and local Anishinabek, who had lost the language, created community and belonging through educational programs. These spaces have become focal points where community comes together and, for many individuals, are the primary spaces where language, culture, and identity are reclaimed and passed on. However, these are also spaces of tension where gender roles, language ideologies, and linguistic practices concerning language as an ideological marker of identity and its role as a communicative system are challenged and reimagined.

Through interviews with community members and participant observation, I explore relationships to urban and reservation “homelands,” the importance of education as places where individuals develop relationships to their identities and culture, and the role that language, as both an ideological marker of identity and belonging and as a communicative system, play in their everyday lives and experiences. While most participants agreed that language was important to preserving identity and traditional knowledge, their relationships with their identities as urban and Indigenous, and their relationships to Indigenous language, highlight: (1) the need to reexamine language ideologies that link Language to “traditional culture and Knowledge” and the impacts these ideologies have on language revitalization. (2) The importance of urban areas as Indigenous homelands and places where Indigenous languages persist, and (3) the role of education as intersections and places of tension where multiple ideologies, identities, and ways of being Indigenous are expressed and reimagined.


454 Baker Hall

United States

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Department of Anthropology