Is a Connection to the Sacred Lost with Loss of Language?

Indian Country Today recently published an excellent article pointing out the relation many indigenous languages have to the sacred. Author Duane Champagne thoughtfully addresses the impact that language has on the way we interpret the world, arguing that English does not have the necessary nuances to accurately express key elements of most indigenous spiritual beliefs.

Champagne asks “Did Indians lose anything in the transition to English speaking?” He then begins to answer the question, arguing “If economic and cultural assimilation were the primary goals of Indians communities and individuals, then the answer is no. However, if the issue is renewal of culture, community, and political autonomy, then the answer becomes somewhat more complicated.”

Champagne goes on to note that in Latin and South America, one of the key determinants of an Indian identity is whether or not an individual speaks an Indian language. While many, if not most, people in Latin and South America have at least partial Indian ancestry, “detribalized mestizos who speak Spanish and have embraced the national economy and culture are not considered Indians.”

This thought provoking article brings up a number of questions. To what extent can indigenous people integrate with the dominant culture without losing their own tribal identity? How important is language in an individual’s identity as an Indian? Is a connection to the sacred diminished for English-only speakers?

These questions are hard to answer, as evidenced by the wide range of opinions people seem to have about them. What do you think?

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