By Virtue of What We’ve Saved

David Treuer speaking with Krista Tippett in “Language and Meaning—An Ojibwa Story,” Speaking of Faith (October 1, 2009):

I think, for a lot of native people who are involved in language revitalization efforts—which is that a lot of times over thDavid Treuere last 50 or 60 years, a lot of native people define themselves as native by virtue of what they've lost, you know?

I'm native, because I'm poor, because I've, you know, because I was "forced" on a reservation, because I drank powdered milk and grew up in HUD housing, because I've lost my cousins, because I've struggled with alcohol or whatever. And there's validity in that, there really is. But what I really love about language revitalization, what is so key to it, is that it's always been ours. It's never been given to us. Our native languages aren't forced on us. And it's a chance to define ourselves on and in our own terms and in ways that have nothing to do with what's been taken. We can define ourselves by virtue of what we've saved.

…Marcel Proust said that, particularly speaking of writing novels, said that nothing really exists in and of itself in a book, that characters and situations and places only take on life by way of contrast. That's how novels build themselves are through creating contrasts and intentions, resolutions and more contrasts and intentions.

I think the same could be said for life, that nothing exists in and of itself. Everything exists only by way of contrasts. So in and of itself, I think Ojibwe is beautiful. Just the animal sound of the language, how it flows, to the kinds of trickery that those words themselves can bring out…But also in contrast to the English with which we are surrounded, Ojibwe seems all the more precious, you know, all the more beautiful.