It has been said before and it deserves to be repeated; We are our languages, and denying us the right to use our languages in public or making it impossible to study, live and love through the medium of our languages are powerful methods of what can only be referred to as a cultural genocide. Without our languages, we are nothing, but far too many people forget that for us the natural step from reclaiming a language is to continue the process of decolonising the lands and minds we inhabit.
In many ways, we have already commenced this process by working to return our names to the land; each sign we put up in our languages signals the very act of reclaiming the land as ours, it denies colonial ownership over something that we never gave away freely, and this scares the shit out of settlers, to the point where they feel the need to vandalise these signs.
But at the same time it is important to make it clear to people that I am not reclaiming my language in order to be able to show it off as a twee symbol of my people, whilst remaining silent about the ongoing destruction of my people’s ancestral lands. Each word I learn is a sign rooted in my land and embodied through my choice to speak it. My language is my land and when I speak it, I challenge colonialism, by the very act of not remaining silent.
The thing about reclaiming a language is that it doesn’t matter if we’re given tokenistic rights to use our language in certain spheres, if we’re still denied the right to self-government over our own lands. If we’re not given the right to veto mines or other destructive capitalist developments that would spell the end of our cultures, then what does it matter if I can speak my language or not?
The problem here is that current political agendas around the world with regards to indigenous peoples make it very clear that the only choice we as indigenous peoples have is to either demand full autonomy and thus be shut down completely by the colonial governments on our lands, or to silently and complacently reclaim our languages and practice our cultures in tiny state-approved spheres on terms laid down by settlers, but without the actual right to decide what can and cannot, what should and what shouldn’t happen on our lands.
Yes, we are our languages, but we are also our lands and it is impossible to force us to choose between either.