Friday, November 27, 2015

History of conversational Wendat

The poet Robert Bringhurst, translator of the surviving Haida epics, once proposed that every North American poet should learn one indigenous American language and undertake some translations, so that the cultural heritage of the continent could begin to be appreciated. ('Course he also got accused of cultural appropriation, so it's not without complications.)

I'm not aware of a comparable call for indigenous language learning by Canadian historians. But John Steckley is doing his best to make up for the rest of us. Otherwise seeming your basic white guy from southern Ontario, Steckley understands and studies both Wendat and Anishnaabe -- profoundly different languages. As Tehaondechoren, he is an adopted member of the Wyandotte nation of Kansas.

His new book Instructions to a Dying Infidel, is a translation from Wendat. More complications: the text was originally produced by 17th century French missionaries, at a time when it was common enough for newcomers to Canada to learn the local language. Its purpose was to assist Jesuit missionaries in bringing about deathbed conversions to Catholicism. Apparently this is its first translation into a European language.
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