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Signs of life for the Oneida language

By Press Times Staff

ONEIDA – A statewide effort to recognize and preserve the native languages of Wisconsin’s federally recognized tribes took shape near the Hwy. 54 bridge over Duck Creek on Friday, Sept. 30 as The Oneida Nation became the second tribe in the state to unveil dual-language signs at the boundaries of its reservation.

The new signs feature the Oneida Tribal Seal next to the Tribe’s name in its native language — Onyoteʔa:ká (pronounced O-na-yo-day-aah-GAaa) — the traditional name for the reservation, which means “The People of the Upright Stone.”

“Oneida language is the first language of our ancestors and we appreciate the state of Wisconsin for their recognition and respect of our sovereignty, language and traditions,” Oneida Chairman Tehassi Hill said. “Native preservation and languages go to the heart of a Tribe’s unique cultural identities, traditions, spiritual beliefs, and self-governance. We look forward to revitalizing the Oneida language through these signs.”

The sign also features the words Talu?kowanhné (Da-lew-go-wonh-NAY), which translates to “Place of Bountiful Ducks,” and Kawyhuhatati (Gaw-who-ha-DA-di), which means “River Flowing Along,” with the English language Duck Creek below.

According to Oneida Nation Councilwoman Marie Summers-Cornelius, who was one of several officials from the Oneida Tribe, Brown County and the state of Wisconsin in attendance at the unveiling ceremony, the tribe today faces a “language crisis.”

She said many who spoke the language have now passed on, and the Oneida people are struggling with the possibility that they might lose their language as each new generation gets further and further away from it.

“It’s a huge step, a huge initiative,” Summers-Cornelius said. “Right now, Indiginous Nations all over the country are having a difficult time with their language and how to reinvent it and bring it forward into current times. So, to have this shown in such a public spot is really a heartfelt thing to see. We need to start showing our language often show the public that it still exists – to show even our own community members that it still exists.”

Summers-Cornelius was quick to highlight how smooth the process went and encouraged all of the 11 federally-recognized tribes in Wisconsin to take part in the initiative.

“It’s given us a lot of hope,” she said. “The current administration is working hard to include Indigineous Nations in Wisconsin. This process was very, very smooth. The Federal Highway Administration gave it their stamp of approval and so now, it’s just a matter of all Wisconsin Nations coming forward and getting their designs and words ready because we all have separate languages. It was a great process to be a part of. The whole thing was encouraging. More and more, we have a voice.”

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