"In order to learn the language, the land must survive."

A beautiful piece by Erica Violet Lee on indigenous language, land, and decolonization at Red Rising Magazine:

Late in the Saskatchewan summer, we are out in the bush. I am walking with two people speaking to each other in nēhiyawēwin. It is beautiful to witness this small slice of the way things were before our languages were stripped from so many of us. I can’t understand all the words they are saying, but I can tell they are falling in love with every word they speak.

We are out here to protect this land from the clearcutting of forests, and although the land appears pristine, the unnatural thunder of approaching logging machinery has grown loud enough to spook the animals around us. But in the language, they create a safe world in the midst of destruction. I listen to their mouths sit longer with certain syllables, and watch the sideways glances that make them burst into belly laughter. There is magic in their mistakes, as is only created by the willingness of clumsy tongues coming together to relearn ancient languages. In order to have a real conversation in nēhiyawēwin, reciprocity is necessary. Ehe. I could listen to them speaking together all day, but when they grasp hands to step across a small creek, my cheeks get hot and I realize I must be intruding. I busy myself by wandering off trail to pick chokecherries that are dark red, ripe, and so heavy that they fall off the branch with the gentlest coaxing from my hand.

After a while, I meet up with the couple again. One of them says to me, “You will come back here one day and you will be able to speak the language to your ancestors.” I would like to believe them, but I know that in order to become fluent, I will have to find my own ways to immerse myself deeper in the language and the land. In order to learn the language, the land must survive.