Recovering language, reclaiming voice: Menominee language revitalization

Christine Keller Lemley
Dept. of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Wisconsin - Madison
August, 2006


Indigenous languages are becoming extinct. Loss of language relates to loss of culture. In an attempt to save their Indigenous language, the Menominee Nation of Central Wisconsin instituted Menominee Language Revitalization Programs (MLRPs). This study investigated the impact of intergenerational language transmission on Menominee identity and MLRP sustainability. Using qualitative research methodologies involving observations and interviews this study included four elders, eight speakers and sixteen learners participating in the MLRPs.

The study is set within a post-colonial framework to historicize events leading to the present status of the Menominee language. Narrative inquiry is used as a method to privilege the voices of the language participants. The researcher created and used the concept of Indigenous Discourses as an analytical tool in the analyses of the narratives. Within identified themes of representation, power, voice, and authorship, sub-themes of language, land, and culture emerged.

The following implications were made: (a) historical conditioning of each generation influenced their teaching/learning of the language and (b) the experience of language learning was a move toward (re)building a Menominee national culture. The tension between these first two resulted in (c) a sense of obligation to sustain the Menominee language and culture. Implications for participant-research collaboration and culturally relevant pedagogy were made when participants identified the importance of Indigenous epistemologies as strategies in the language learning process.