On mastering an indigenous language

One of the ways people describe language learning is by referring to a goal of “mastering the language.” This expression provides insight into the Western view of knowledge attainment.

What exactly does it mean for one to be the master of an indigenous language?

The notion of language mastery is grounded in Western ideas of holding dominion over the environment, over people, and by extension, over a language. An indigenous language is itself a spirit that carries within it thousands of years of ancestral wisdom. When we tame such a spirit, we transform it into something it was not intended to be in order to serve our needs. We have mastered the language.

Indigenous languages must be given the opportunity to participate fully in the communication between individuals in the manner in which they were intended. A goal for us, then, is the development of authentic language assessments that welcome the full inclusion of indigenous languages.

Image: Wiikwemkoong Unceded Reserve, Mnidoo Mnis (Manitoulin Island), Ontario, Canada (September, 2018).