The Value of Preserving Our Cultures

26 Apr

While listening to NPR’s Fresh Air program this morning I was refreshed to hear an interview with two brothers of Ojibwe-Jewish heritage who are working to preserve the Ojibwe language. The brothers David & Anton Treurer, both living in Minnesota, have dedicated their lives to ensuring the Ojibwe mother tongue, one of only a few native languages expected to survive beyond our century, remains intact for future generations.

Their interview discussed the beauty of the language, its depth of expression and, its importance to the survival of the Ojibwe way of life even today. Like most first languages of North America, Ojibwe fell prey to formal government efforts, or “language eradication” policies in the late 19th-early 20th century. Children, many of who were forced into publicly funded boarding schools, were discouraged from speaking the language and in most cases outwardly penalized. But the Treuer’s, both fluent Ojibwe speakers, are playing a pivotal role in ensuring that this language erosion remains a thing of the past through their efforts to record, transcribe and translate their language.

What was most enlightening to me, however, was the brothers’ description of the language’s linguistic foundations and its rich layers of meaning for describing and interpreting the stuff of everyday life. For example, in Ojibwe, the word for Elder means “a great being”.

The example I particularly appreciated was the word for older woman, ‘Minda-muye’ (sp.), which literally translates to ‘one who holds things together’, effectively, as one Treuer brother explained, describing the central role of the family matriarch, something each one of us can relate to I am sure.

This deep respect and regard for the aged members of the community and for the role of women in Ojibwe culture as reflected in the language is just one example of why it is so very important that we, the many diverse people of this planet, take deliberate, passionate efforts to reclaim, retain, preserve, practice, and share our cultures, mores, and traditions with our children and others. Each of our cultures has much to teach the world and great wisdom that I believe is essential to our ability to address and resolve the challenges facing our families, our communities, OUR YOUTH, and our nation today.

Though most of us who primarily (though not necessarily exclusively) identify with our African-American heritage may have lost connection with our mother tongues, there is much we can do to preserve the many positive enduring facets of our African culture here in America and throughout the diaspora, particularly our love and commitment to family, our devotion to and nurturing of our children, our community-centered world view, our respect and honor for the Creator, and our reliance on our spiritual-intellectual-creative capacity to solve the challenges of our times.

It’s worth our time and effort to take deliberate steps to ensure that the very best attributes of our culture remain in tact, and that the wisdom & ways of our forebearers and that which we have gleaned in our own time, is passed down for the sake of future generations.


Sankofa Symbol of the Adinkra

Sankofa, one of two Adinkra (West African) symbols meaning “Return and get it” symbolizing the importance of learning from the past.

See to learn more…


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