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How Did a Self-Taught Linguist Approach to Have an Indigenous Language?

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How Did a Self-Taught Linguist Approach to Have an Indigenous Language?

After I first met Carol Dana, within the spring of 2018, she told me that she was bearing in mind of getting a parrot. Dana, a member of the Penobscot Nation, one among five hundred and seventy-four Native American tribes identified by the United States federal authorities, was attending a small ceremony at the College of Maine’s anthropology museum. She wore her silver hair pulled back from her face, and launched herself to me as the tribe’s language master, a title, she added, that she wasn’t totally comfortable with. The idea of mastery gave the impression an imprecise way to describe the fraught relationship she had with the Penobscot words interior her head. Although now no longer fluent, Dana has a larger grasp of the language than anyone else on Indian Island, the place six hundred of the arena’s estimated twenty-four hundred participants of the Penobscot tribe stay. She admitted to being linguistically lonely. “I’ve been talking to myself in Penobscot for years,” she said. “You want to say it out loud, so your gain ears can hear it.” Although she knew that a chook wouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation, she plan that simply hearing Penobscot words spoken at home by another living creature would be larger than nothing.

Dana, who’s sixty-eight, learned most of what she knows of Penobscot now no longer from her tribal elders however from Frank Siebert, a self-taught linguist who hired her, in 1982, as a research assistant. He was seventy; Dana was thirty. Siebert had grown up in Philadelphia and had been passionate about Native Americans for as lengthy as he may be aware—as a minute one, he had slept with a toy tomahawk in his bed. He, Dana, and a few other assistants labored in a bare place of labor on Indian Island, a mile-large shallot-shaped island within the heart of the Penobscot River. Dana, who was introduced up there, had as a minute one been forbidden to traipse to the mainland, and she’d spent her college-age days deciding on blueberries and mayflowers, constructing lean-tos, and impaling apples on sticks, throwing them adore javelins. Within the summertime, she and her pals swam within the river; within the fall, they wrestled within the leaves. Siebert, who had moved to Maine permanently about fifteen years earlier than Dana joined him in his work, had no such reminiscences, however together they muttered and scribbled in a language that most attention-grabbing a handful of of us aloof spoke.

Early Newspaper

I first heard about Frank Siebert a year earlier than I met Dana, from Jane Anderson, a legal scholar at N.Y.U. I was enthusiastic about the ways wherein indigenous information, passed down via many generations and usually collectively held, is assumed to be essentially authorless by Western intellectual-property law. Anderson, who’s Australian, works with indigenous communities around the arena to assist resolve conflicts over the ownership of ancient ideas. I had advance to her with questions about a burgeoning stream in Guatemala to trademark traditional weaving designs, however within an hour I was satisfied that I will have to aloof travel now no longer to Central America however to Maine, which, she told me, was home to a sovereign nation whose language was technically owned by a dead white man who had devised a way to write it down.

The name Penobscot is a mangled rendering of punawuhpskek—or pαnáwαhpskek, within the writing machine Siebert launched—meaning “the place the place the rocks clear out.” For more than three hundred generations, the tribe, which once had fifty thousand participants, hunted on the banks of the Penobscot River, navigated its waters, and spoke one among the many Eastern Algonquian languages heard along a swath of the northern Atlantic coast—an area that today extends from Nova Scotia to North Carolina. Siebert began discovering out the Penobscot language within the nineteen-thirties, four hundred years after European explorers arrived. By then, all that was left of the Penobscot territory, which once encompassed half of Maine, was a reservation that included Indian Island, which can be circumnavigated by foot in less than an hour, and some smaller islands along the river. The tribe’s language had nearly disappeared from employ. Foundation within the eighteen-eighties, Penobscot younger of us had been despatched to authorities-backed residential faculties, the place teachers beat them for speaking anything however English. “Anywhere else on the planet, you’re plan to be more wise whereas you’re bilingual—with the exception of for us, for some reason,” Dana told me. The strategy, replicated across the nation, was efficient: more than three hundred indigenous languages had been once spoken within the United States; today, linguists fear that within thirty years there can be most attention-grabbing twenty. By the heart of the twentieth century, there had been suitable two dozen Penobscot speakers on Indian Island, most of them aged. When they tried to teach Penobscot to youthful participants of the tribe, their efforts had been met with complaints that there was no employ for it anyway.

But Dana loved listening to her grandmother speak the language of her ancestors. Savor other indigenous New England dialects, Penobscot does no longer distinguish between certain usually former consonants—“B”s and “P”s, for instance, or “Z”s and “S”s. The sonic achieve of Penobscot—melodic, delicate, and faded-sounding, almost adore singing—is at odds with the language’s structure, which is especially visual, atmosphere friendly, and kinetic. Single words can particular corpulent ideas. Canoe is “that which flows evenly upon the water”; an otter is a “wandering portager”; lunch is “midday eat”; butter is “milk grease”; flower is “one thing bursting forth into the sunshine.” Dana describes Penobscot words as “minute poetic images.” Her grandmother was a stoic and distant woman when she spoke in English, however she gave the impression transformed when laughing and joking and talking with her Native pals. “That’s how language is conveyed,” Dana said. “Around the kitchen table.”

Dana first applied for a job on Siebert’s team in 1979; she told me that she had been frustrated when Siebert gave the job now no longer to her or to another Penobscot individual however to a “purple-haired woman from Connecticut.” Two years later, Siebert agreed to take Dana on as effectively; he had her kind via stacks of materials—transcripts of interviews he’d carried out with elders of their homes, journals and notecards scrawled with vocabulary that was written within the orthography he’d developed, which was punctuated with unfamiliar, academic diacritics.

Dana was moved by what she learned. There is now no longer any note in Penobscot for “goodbye, ” most attention-grabbing the more optimistic “I’ll peer you again.” Verbs of motion almost always have prefixes. Folks don’t suitable walk or jump. They walk from here or to there; they jump across or out or up. Via syntax and morphology, the language conveys how the speaker relates to the match she is describing: Did she peer it, or does she have most attention-grabbing oblique evidence that it happened? Is it hearsay? Constructed into the language is the directive to cite one’s sources. After I asked Dana whether or now no longer she ever felt resentful or embarrassed that she had learned her gain language from a white man, she laughed. “Oh, certain, all of that,” she said. “But it no doubt didn’t rather feel adore I was learning it from him.” It was her ancestors’ language that she was reading, now no longer Siebert’s.

There was no bridge to Indian Island when Siebert made his first time obtainable, as a twenty-year-feeble college pupil, in 1932. The ferry, a flat-bottomed bateau, tag ten cents, round time out. It was August, and the river was low the day he boarded the boat and paid his fare. He asked the place he may perhaps glean somebody willing to speak Penobscot with him, and the ferryman pointed toward a honeysuckle-lined path that led via the woods. At the waste of the path lived a pious man in his sixties named Louis Lolar. Siebert launched himself, and Lolar invited him interior. His small home was sparsely furnished; adore the opposite homes on the island, it had no indoor plumbing. The two men sat by Lolar’s woodstove, and Siebert practiced Penobscot except the sun went down. To an English-speaking eavesdropper, the conversation would have sounded a bit adore a choir lesson.

Siebert was nearsighted and nearly six and a half toes tall. Every person plan he regarded German. His excessive-college yearbook had remarked on his “unobtrusiveness and total disdain (as far as we know) of the female sex.” By the age of fifteen, he had read every little thing he may perhaps glean about Native Americans, and had grown so impatient with the limitations of the local public library that he’d begun creating his gain private one. His first purchase, in 1928, was a reprint of a seventeenth-century Christian primer written in Wampanoag, a language related to Penobscot. It tag him twenty-five cents. Siebert’s father was a train inspector; his mother, a savvy stock investor. They wanted him to turn into a doctor, and so he did. It was when he entered medical college, at the College of Pennsylvania, that his double lifestyles began.

Siebert took the required programs in biochemistry and immunology, however he spent his free time learning about indigenous North American languages. He took regular trips up the East Coast, to attend lectures at Columbia, with Franz Boas, broadly plan to be the pioneer of contemporary anthropology, and at Yale, with Edward Sapir, a founding father of ethnolinguistics. At the College of Pennsylvania, Frank Speck, an anthropologist specializing within the Algonquian and Iroquoian peoples, nurtured Siebert’s special pastime in Penobscot. Speck kept place of labor hours in a e book-lined neo-Gothic chapel crammed with living snakes and lizards, and was known to shoot arrows from a crossbow into the door. Speck had visited Indian Island in 1907 and peaceful Penobscot stories from Newell Lyon, a speaker in his seventies. (At the time, linguists called such Native collaborators “informants,” as though in admission that their work eager a more or less treachery.) The stories chronicled the exploits of Gluskabe, a shamanic hunter and trickster whose grandmother, a woodchuck, teaches him how to survive within the desert the usage of interspecies statecraft. The Gluskabe stories had been passed down locally adore heirlooms. As soon as in a whereas one family would take a particular narrative into its care, as if for safekeeping, and another family would have to ask for permission to relay it. In 1918, eleven years after his first time out to Indian Island, Speck revealed the stories in an academic journal.

In Speck’s place of labor, Siebert memorized Penobscot vocabulary whereas retaining an contemplate on a white fox, which hid within the back of a leaking radiator. To learn the language’s grammar and make his first attempts at a Penobscot orthography, Siebert pored over Speck’s transcriptions of Lyon’s Gluskabe stories, marking up their margins in inexperienced and purple ink. Savor the patients Siebert was learning to treat, the language was frail and struggling. In a letter he despatched at that time, he described Penobscot as “nearly dead in all respects.”

Siebert joined the Linguistic Society of America; he peaceful stories and collated note lists from Native American communities in Ontario, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Lengthy Island, some of them on the purpose of disappearing. He wrote for peer-reviewed linguistic journals, offered at conferences, and did area work within the summertime. As soon as, at some point of a medical internship, he sold his blood in present to steal a rare version of an eighteenth-century indigenous-language handbook. But linguistics remained a passion. In 1956, he married Marion Paterson, an administrative assistant at a Pittsburgh hospital the place he had taken a job. Marion, a decade his junior, had grown up within the area at some point of the Despair. Their honeymoon, which he planned, was a using tour of Civil War battleground web sites. The subsequent year, they moved to Vermont, the place Siebert labored as a pathologist and as a regional medical examiner. Siebert and Marion’s first daughter, Kathy, was born in 1958; their second, Stephanie, in 1961.

“Let’s peer . . . I’ll accomplish the inexperienced eggs . . . ham . . . sub the eggs for . . . hmm . . . I’ll advance back to that. Let’s traipse ahead and sub hash browns for the ham . . . Achieve you prepare the potatoes on the same griddle as the eggs or the ham?”
Cartoon by Sara Lautman

Both daughters told me that their parents’ marriage was paralyzed. Neither attempted to diagnose their father, however, adore other of us I spoke with, they described the more or less bizarre behavior that one may perhaps associate with a worried breakdown. In Vermont, Siebert became neurotically frugal, eating meals out of the trash and now no longer allowing Marion to steal formula for the babies. As Marion nursed and cooked and cleaned, Siebert plan aloud, in a booming negate, about Custer’s Last Stand. They had screaming matches and physical altercations. Siebert once told a bookseller that he had tried to push Marion out of a transferring car and that she, in flip, had reduce his brake lines.

The couple divorced in 1964, and that fall Siebert left Vermont without saying the place he was going. For a time, he lived in Philadelphia, in a single-room-occupancy hotel. Marion and the girls returned to Pittsburgh to stay with her family. Siebert by no means paid alimony or minute one increase. Marion, who continued to wear her marriage ceremony ring and kept a framed photograph of Siebert and his microscope on a bookshelf, wanted to rent a detective to track him down, however she couldn’t afford it. She had no idea that her husband had moved to Maine.

Siebert purchased a bungalow across the river from Indian Island and went to work. Retaining a hardly spoken oral language required innovative intervention. Of the 2 dozen fluent Penobscot speakers whom Siebert had started interviewing decades earlier, most attention-grabbing a few had been aloof alive, including Andrew Dana, who had learned Penobscot as a minute one by staying up past his bedtime and listening to his grandfather, a famous storyteller. (His family was shut with Carol Dana’s, however she believes they weren’t related.) By 1968, Andrew Dana was in his seventies and ailing. As he spoke, Siebert scribbled. Siebert’s notebooks are crammed with the feeble man’s corrections—the sounds that Siebert misheard, the words he misspelled. Siebert, who had left his medical career within the back of when he moved to Maine, supported himself with investments and with private and federal grants, which enabled him to rent a small team of assistants. In 1980, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded him a large sum for the creation of a Penobscot dictionary that would “present scholars”—now no longer speakers—“with a larger understanding of the language and tradition.”

Ives Goddard, who curated the Smithsonian’s department of anthropology at the time, has described Siebert as “clearly the most brilliant and most competent avocational linguist working on Native American languages that there has ever been, hands down.” But Siebert was known on the reservation as a crank. He wandered around in stained shirts and suits shining with wear. He monitored his bank account obsessively and subsisted on canned tuna and beans. His letters from the time, many of which paddle on for multiple pages, are written in a nearly illegible script and crammed with omnidirectional vitriol. His targets included the C.I.A., the F.D.I.C., Keynesian economics, libraries, Brazil, fellow e book collectors, African-Americans, and the twentieth century itself. He mocked Daniel Boone, for his melancholy spelling (“adore a four-year-feeble”), and F.D.R., whom he referred to as “Passe Jelly Legs.”

Siebert gave the impression to exercise a lot of time taking walks in a nearby graveyard, and he by no means had company. A neighbor—whose newspaper Siebert read to avoid paying for his gain subscription—typically introduced him dinner, however the meals was seldom to Siebert’s liking, and he was now no longer haunted about saying so. He left Maine most attention-grabbing to steal rare books, and to habits library research. Clarence Wolf, a Philadelphia-based bookseller, plan that Siebert was homeless on first assembly him. Within the insular world of antiquarian e book accumulating, he came to be known as the Indian Man. A linguistic anthropologist who met Siebert within the seventies celebrated that, regardless of his rapidly expanding bibliographic series, he was “a scholar who trusted no scholar, and hence no merchandise of scholarship.” Siebert believed that his college-affiliated colleagues had been at a unsightly take away from their supposed areas of expertise; he, meanwhile, was satisfied most attention-grabbing to learn from primary sources.

Carol Dana wryly described Siebert as “a assorted more or less individual.” More than once, his abrasiveness introduced Dana to the verge of quitting. She recalled Siebert following her out of the place of labor one night and blocking her car door whereas he railed about grammar. As soon as, at the grocery store, one among Dana’s daughters spotted Siebert walking down an aisle with a cart and asked her whether or now no longer they are going to have to aloof camouflage. Dana continued to work for Siebert for five years, in part because of Pauleena MacDougall, the purple-haired research assistant from Connecticut, who had turn into an ally of varieties, usually chiding Siebert for his rudeness. (MacDougall went on to forge her gain career as a historian of Native American tradition.) Dana recalled that, now no longer lengthy after she joined the team, somebody introduced in a photocopy of the Gluskabe stories that Lyon had told Speck all these decades ago. Dana seized on them, noting their amusing timing and the way wherein unrelated characters addressed one another as kin, suitable as her neighbors on Indian Island did. She loved how the stories, in celebrating negotiation and compromise, rebuked violence, deception, and fraud. She shared the photocopy with her pals, who shared it with theirs; simply spreading these stories, Dana plan, helped insure the continuation of her of us. Eventually, a small, spiral-plug version with a purple duvet was printed and sold on the island. Siebert gave the impression now no longer to look.

As his assistants went over his area notes and conjugated verbs, submitting them on index cards by root and appending usage examples to individual entries, Siebert, Dana said, was usually “within the opposite room, checking his stocks.” She studied his notebooks, memorizing sentence constructions and vocabulary. Siebert wanted his dictionary to capture how he believed Penobscot was supposed to be spoken. Dana confessed to me that she aloof pronounces issues according to Siebert’s machine; she recalled now no longer too lengthy ago overhearing a man around her age say the Native note for a walking cane with a faster second syllable than she was former to, and is now attempting to accomplish the same. “Frank was so enthusiastic about Penobscot, however he also had a certain peer of it,” she said. “He couldn’t stand that certain of us spoke the language another way.” As soon as, Dana recalled, Siebert corrected the pronunciation of an elder speaker in front of a large community. Many of us by no means forgave him for it. For decades, they had been told now no longer to speak Penobscot at all, and now an outsider was instructing them on how to accomplish it effectively.

Dana had been working with Siebert for about two years when, in 1984, he achieved a draft of the dictionary. It was twelve hundred and thirty-five pages lengthy, with a forty-9-page introduction. There have been shut to fifteen thousand entries, peaceful all via a half century and transcribed the usage of an alphabet that was partly of his gain create. Algonquian linguists bear in mind it a masterpiece. “With out that dictionary, we wouldn’t have anything,” Dana told me.

Aloof, the project was flawed. Alphabetized in Penobscot, it was written for an imagined audience of fluent Penobscot speakers—a population that barely existed whereas Siebert was working on the dictionary, and which now doesn’t exist at all. “It’s now no longer individual-friendly,” Dana said. “Say you want to gaze up ‘morning star’—effectively, how can you whereas you don’t know the Penobscot note for it?” There was no English-to-Penobscot fragment. This deficiency made the dictionary an spoiled tool for reviving the Penobscot language; Dana was one among the few folk that may perhaps conceivably employ it, and that was most attention-grabbing because she had been instrumental in its assembly.

By the mid-nineties, almost all fluent speakers of Penobscot had died, including Madeline Shay, a broadly regarded language teacher on the island. Newspaper reports declared the language officially extinct. In 1995, a latest excessive-college graduate named Conor Quinn came to the area for the summer season to assist Siebert along with his work. Quinn, an aspiring linguist, had now no longer too lengthy ago stumbled on an Irish textbook on his mother’s bookshelf and taught himself the language of his ancestors. Working with Siebert in his bungalow, he residing about proofreading early variations of the Gluskabe stories and other narratives, the usage of Siebert’s handwritten area notes as a handbook. When they weren’t discussing Algonquian linguistics, Siebert shared macabre anecdotes about his past work as a pathologist. (Quinn remembers his description of the insides of contaminated lungs as having a gaze adore break up-pea soup.) “Frank had very minute patience for parents that didn’t already know the way to meet his standards or didn’t want to meet his standards,” Quinn told me. The Penobscot had been, he said, “very suspicious of Frank.” Certain tribe participants gave the impression aware that Siebert “didn’t assume grand of their command of the language,” Quinn went on. “He literally said to me one day, ‘I accomplish assume there was once a standard Penobscot.’ And I be aware bearing in mind, Eh, I don’t assume so. How may perhaps there be? Every person learned it from their family and pals.”

Quinn, who now teaches linguistics at the College of Southern Maine, eventually realized that Siebert’s writing machine was an obstacle for parents that had been eager to learn the language. “It was a giant pain for all americans,” he said. “Why did this white guy advance in and introduce such a nonintuitive alphabet? It was really off-hanging. Savor, ‘Here is the language my grandmother spoke, and now there’s all this technical stuff I have to learn?’ ”

Darren Ranco, an anthropologist and the chair of Native American programs at the College of Maine, met Siebert once, within the early nineties, and told me that he was struck by how Siebert gave the impression to refuse any form of self-contextualization, dressing against the weather and generally behaving as though it had been a assorted century. “He studied dead issues,” Ranco said, referring to Siebert’s career conducting autopsies. “That was his approach to every little thing.”

Quinn told me that there is a few debate today about the usage of the diction of mortality to describe the status of indigenous languages. “ ‘Dead’ and ‘demise’ and ‘endangered’ and ‘extinct’ all make it sound adore it’s a natural task, however this isn’t what’s happened,” he said. “I assume whereas you’re going to employ the death metaphor you will have to aloof talk about killing and murdering.” Bernard Perley, a member of the Tobique First Nation, in New Brunswick, and the director of the Institute for Critical Indigenous Stories, at the College of British Columbia, has called methodologies adore Siebert’s a “ghoulish” more or less “mortuary linguistics.”

“For communities adore my gain,” Ranco said, “the place our language was beaten out of us, literally, and discouraged time and time again, having somebody adore Siebert advance in, with an pastime most attention-grabbing in documenting the language, now no longer dedicated to reënlivening it—all for my relatives had been his sources—this absolutely upsets me, after the hospitality so many Penobscot gave him.”

Two years earlier than Quinn arrived on Indian Island, Siebert fell ailing with bladder cancer, and a pair of married, non-Native research assistants contacted his daughters. Kathy and Stephanie had been of their thirties at the time; both had been married with small younger of us and struggling financially. Marion was in her seventies. None of the females had seen Siebert in decades.

With their mother’s approval, Kathy and Stephanie flew to Bangor to search advice from Siebert. Stephanie described the time out as “very outlandish,” and her father as “hard to talk to, probably because he had been a hermit most of his lifestyles.” Siebert place his daughters up in a nearby hotel, hassled a waitress once they went out to eat, and drove them around in a rusted-out Pontiac that Kathy said was “barely functioning.” Stephanie was struck by her father’s height, his deep negate, his soiled garments, and especially his glasses—the frames had been from the forties. Kathy described him as miserly and self-centered, “adore Ebenezer Scrooge,” and recalled begging him to reduce his hair. Stephanie believed that he was regretful about having abandoned them. “I assume he felt faulty,” she said.

Within the next five years, the sisters paid a few more visits to Siebert, by no means staying lengthy. When they took their final time out, in January of 1998, Siebert was in a nursing home in Bangor. A brutal storm had left the state of Maine having a gaze adore a vandalized jewellery case—a land of white satin and diamonds and damaged glass. Trees and energy lines had been encased in ice; faculties closed; hospitals crammed up with hypothermia patients. L. L. Bean donated coats and lengthy underwear to out-of-state emergency volunteers. For a week, a total lot of thousands of of us lived in darkness and chilly, and Siebert’s nursing home ran on a backup generator.

The sisters knew nothing about their father’s work, however they may impart from a immediate notion of his home that they’d want professional assist. He had given them the contact information for Bailey Bishop, an antiquarian bookseller in Cambridge from whom Siebert had acquired many of his books, and they asked if he may perhaps advance up and appraise the contents of the bungalow. Bishop agreed enthusiastically. For years, Siebert had begged him to travel to Maine and assist him catalogue his series, however at the very last minute he always called off the plan. Now Bishop was finally going to peer what the elusive Indian Man had amassed at some point of the outdated sixty years. When Bishop arrived, the energy within the area was aloof out, so he labored in a parka by kerosene lamp, sorting via piles of antique volumes, feeble letters, and woven baskets. A human skeleton sat on a shelf within the basement. Within the lounge, receipts for Siebert’s rare books lay scattered across the ground. “If Frank had an organizational manner for storing them, it was no longer in achieve,” Bishop recalled. With Stephanie and Kathy’s blessing, Bishop took your total series to his home, near Harvard Square.

Siebert died on January 23, 1998, at the age of eighty-five. His funeral, held three days later, in Philadelphia, was attended by a dozen participants of Siebert’s prolonged family and three other of us: Bishop; Clarence Wolf, the Philadelphia-based bookseller who had plan Siebert was homeless; and an aged man no one knew, who said that he remembered Siebert from the Cub Scouts. Recalling that day, Wolf sounded as though he had been reciting a fairy tale: “These two younger females . . . of very modest means . . . abruptly came into a great amount of cash.” Then he got maintain of himself. “The total thing was suitable so unusual.”

Siebert’s series was auctioned off the next year, in a two-part sale at Sotheby’s. It comprised more than fifteen hundred items: books, manuscripts, maps, prints, newspapers, pamphlets, and photographs. Bishop, in an introductory essay for the sale’s catalogue, described Siebert as “the most knowledgeable Americanist of his time,” whose library was “probably the last great series of Americana to myth and practice the frontier across our continent.” Selby Kiffer, a senior vice-president in Sotheby’s Books & Manuscripts department, called the auction “monumental,” saying, “Fifty years from now of us will aloof be talking about it.” The series, he added, “electrified the Americana e book-accumulating community.” The sale introduced in more than $12.5 million. As stipulated in Siebert’s will, his daughters break up the sum. Each purchased a home for herself, and together they purchased one for Marion. No provision was made for the Penobscot of us.

Siebert bequeathed his dictionary and his area-work materials to the American Philosophical Society, a nonprofit scholarly organization, founded by Benjamin Franklin, in 1743, which is housed in a stately brick mansion in Philadelphia, a 9-hour power from Indian Island. The A.P.S. encompasses a museum and a library with one among the nation’s largest collections for the contemplate of indigenous languages. It homes grand of Frank Speck’s archive, and also the journals of Lewis and Clark, some of Charles Darwin’s correspondence, and materials from the Eugenics Myth Place of industrial. The items in Siebert’s series, whose legal copyright is held by the A.P.S., take up forty-one linear toes of shelving. Visitation principles are restrictive: visitors have to register in advance, make an appointment, and bring two varieties of identification; most attention-grabbing one box of manuscripts can be accessed at a time.

U.S. intellectual-property law, established as an economic incentive for inventors, privileges folk that can write. In copying down the grammar, the stories, and the vocabulary of the Penobscot, Siebert made them his. In demise, he made them the American Philosophical Society’s.

Within the twenty-unusual years since Siebert’s death, a small community of of us on and off Indian Island have been forced to reckon along with his legacy. Carol Dana, armed along with his note lists, has studied language-immersion and second-language acquisition. She has led games in Penobscot at the island’s day-care heart and given weekly lessons at the elementary college, the place college students, once they want to employ the bathroom, ask for permission to traipse to the wíkəwαmsis (“minute home”). Dana has also trained other instructors, and she helped the Penobscot Theatre Company stage a manufacturing of Gluskabe stories starring local younger of us. She likes teaching “whereas doing issues—tanning hides, making baskets, weaving, anything you can place language to.” She usually consults with Conor Quinn, Siebert’s frail assistant, who has devoted himself to the pedagogy of indigenous-language repatriation. He has led summer season language intensives on the island for local teen-agers and has been working with Pauleena MacDougall on revising the Penobscot dictionary. (Almost forty years after its preliminary version, the final quantity will soon be co-revealed by the Penobscot Nation and the College of Maine Press.)

In 2002, Dana was given her formal title of language master, a place created by the Penobscot Nation’s now no longer too lengthy ago founded Cultural and Historic Preservation Department. The department is led by the Penobscot tribal historian James Francis, who describes himself as a “second-generation nonspeaker.” Its aim, he says, is to “launch the language gates that, out of shame, had been closed so many years ago.” Francis, who’s in his early fifties, grew up on Indian Island in an era of burgeoning indigenous activism. He feels that the major to saving Penobscot tradition is now no longer suitable discovering out the language however the usage of it. “Take the strawberry preserves off the shelf and spread it on a portion of toast” is how he place it to me.

In 2012, Francis, faced with a grant deadline, called on Jane Anderson, the legal scholar at N.Y.U., whom he had met a year earlier, when he attended one among her intellectual-property workshops. Since then, she has labored carefully with the tribe. Unlike many legal specialists, Anderson is capable of viewing the law as the whimsical metaphysician it can be, transforming corporations into of us and lakes into litigants. She is particularly enthusiastic about the ways wherein American law “makes certain issues into property that shouldn’t be seen as property,” and at some point of the past few years she has focussed on the somewhat surreal legal status of the Penobscot language. “Folks say, ‘Hiya, you can’t gain a language!’ ” she told me now no longer too lengthy ago. “And it’s, adore, ‘Well, yeah, actually you can, via the misadventures of I.P. and copyright.’ ”

Anderson sees Siebert’s approach as archetypal of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century anthropological research, which tended to cast indigenous of us now no longer as participants however as objects of contemplate, and rarely aspired to abet them. Siebert’s work had been crucial, she told me, however he also engendered significant community shame. Anderson usually speaks more adore a psychologist than adore a lawyer. “Because he failed at being a parent,” she told me, of Siebert, “he compensated by paternalizing his relationship to the Penobscot, whom he treated adore younger of us and tried to raise effectively, in his eyes.”

Anderson, whose work recurrently grapples with the drawl of whether or now no longer devices of colonial dispossession can be former to repair issues of their very gain making, wants the Penobscot of us to retain cultural authority over their language, despite the fact that they cannot technically maintain its copyright. To that waste, she has collaborated with tribe participants on a few extralegal initiatives, including a project that is being carried out collectively with the A.P.S.: attaching digital labels to the paperwork within the Siebert series, to indicate cultural sensitivity, discourage commercial employ, and demand that the information be attributed to the Penobscot community transferring forward. Indigenous principles around how information is disseminated are usually incompatible with copyright law. Some of the oral narratives within the A.P.S. archive, for example, are meant to be shared most attention-grabbing by females, or most attention-grabbing in chilly weather, or most attention-grabbing by elders. Within the back of the modest-sounding scope of the labels, Anderson told me, is a “radical proposition”: an particular acknowledgment that “there’s one thing really extreme here that the law can’t necessarily contain.”

The ceremony at the College of Maine the place I met Dana, in May, 2018, was hosted by Kirk Francis, the manager of the Penobscot Nation, and Susan Hunter, the president of the college. Surrounded by glass vitrines displaying sweetgrass baskets and deerskin moccasins, in front of a small audience and a local news team, they signed an agreement, drafted by Anderson, which stipulated ways wherein the college would integrate the tribe’s point of view into future research processes: a Penobscot representative would maintain a permanent seat on the museum’s advisory board, the new machine of labelling the A.P.S. series would be instituted, and campus signage would start up to consist of Penobscot translations.

After I spoke with James Francis, who was in attendance, he explained that, ideally, the tribe would have approval over the mumble material and the expression of any portion of writing that depends on Siebert’s research. But imposing such a machine would be onerous, he admitted. He wondered about the feasibility of asking tribe participants to read a total lot of pages of graduate college students’ unedited dissertations. “I mean, even Carol really shouldn’t be talking to you without tribal approval, however we’re aloof attempting to resolve all that out,” he said. “It’s prickly.” I wondered what my editor would say if I told her that every sentence of this article required approval from the Penobscot Nation. After I raised the field with Darren Ranco, from the College of Maine, he acknowledged that the idea of such a machine—which is at odds now no longer most attention-grabbing with the spirit of the First Amendment however also with journalistic ethical standards, which prohibit newshounds from sharing drafts with sources—strikes many of us as illiberal. Aloof, he said, “if colonization had by no means happened, and we had by no means been forced to unlearn our language, we wouldn’t have to have this manner of treasured relationship with it.”

Dana has spent the past few years working to collate and edit the Gluskabe stories that Frank Speck began gathering more than a century ago. The series, “Aloof They Be aware Me: Penobscot Transformer Tales, Quantity 1,” edited by Dana, Quinn, and Margo Lukens, an English professor at the College of Maine, can be revealed by the College of Massachusetts Press this summer season. This may be the first commercial e book to employ Siebert’s writing machine, with each story printed in Penobscot on the left page and in English on the apt, and featuring illustrations by Penobscot artists. The publishing contract notes that all royalties will traipse to the Penobscot Nation, as will choices regarding movie or television rights. Every Penobscot household that wants a reproduction of the quantity, priced at $24.95, will obtain one totally free. As a teaching tool, the stories are far superior to Siebert’s dictionary. Dana hopes that the new e book can make the language accessible to future generations. If Siebert’s legacy was writing down the language, Dana’s is letting it’s read, and its stories be told.

Prior to bed each night, Dana asks her ancestors to search advice from her, and typically she does certainly dream in Penobscot. Her characteristic as tribal language master, she admitted, has been one thing of a burden, and usually she wakes up feeling as if she no longer cares about Penobscot, and is tempted to quit. But she is constantly aware of how rather more she may be doing to forestall her language from being misplaced, and finds herself drawn back to the idea of passing on whatever she can. “Who else is capable?” she once asked me.

“Carol is awfully intense typically,” Maria Girouard, a Penobscot organizer, activist, and historian, said. “She has a minute bit of angst, which, you realize, is understandable. Our language information will have to aloof now no longer relaxation on the backs of a few folk that have devoted their total careers to it.” Maulian Dana, a distant relative of Carol Dana’s and a tribal ambassador in her mid-thirties, who studied Penobscot with Quinn when she was a teen-ager, told me that, today, there’s now no longer a lot of talk about Siebert: “In case you asked somebody on the road, ‘Hiya, who’s the champion of the Penobscot language,’ they wouldn’t say Frank. They’d say Carol.”

On March 25th of last year, the Penobscot Nation, in an effort to insulate itself from COVID-19, erected a checkpoint on the bridge from Indian Island to the mainland. Most productive essential workers and tribal participants had been allowed to base it. At some point of quarantine, Dana, who lives alone in a two-story home near the tribal cemetery, has spoken less Penobscot than she has in decades. She by no means did steal a parrot; she got a canine instead, and named him Jejahk, a shortened assign of the note nəčə̀čahkom, which means “my soul.” As Dana told me about him over the phone, he leaped into her lap. She murmured to him in Penobscot for a moment. “He knows I’m talking about him,” she said.

As soon as a week, Dana provides a seminar over Zoom. Gabe Paul, a language instructor in his thirties, attends Dana’s classes, and tries to speak Penobscot to his son, who’s almost two. To in actuality learn a language, one have to speak it spontaneously with other of us—currently an impossibility for anyone wishing to master Penobscot. “I don’t want this language to, you realize, steal groceries or gather money out of the bank,” Paul told me. “It’s now no longer going to be what it was, at least now no longer apt away. It’s going to take many, many generations.”

Another of Dana’s college students, Jennifer Neptune, a basket-maker and the director of the Penobscot Nation Museum, who’s married to James Francis, told me that, adore all americans on Indian Island, she is paralyzed that the language’s survival is within the hands of so few of us. “It’s scary,” she said, adding that the chance of Dana falling ailing had been her “very first plan” on learning about COVID-19. (In January, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma made fluent speakers eligible for early doses of the coronavirus vaccine, along with medical workers and first responders.)

After I spoke to Dana at the foundation of this year, she talked about her belated realization that a traditional music wherein a man walks sleepily toward the narrator is actually a depiction of somebody who may very effectively be at threat of starvation. “He’s sleepy because he’s hungry!” she said. “He needs muskrat meat!” She told me about another music, wherein a artful rabbit plays a series of increasingly elaborate pranks on a wildcat. I wondered aloud whether or now no longer indigenous storytelling traditions weren’t perhaps the source material for Bugs Bunny cartoons, and then regretted it. “I don’t assume so,” Dana said. “I don’t assume too many of us know our stories.” Occasionally, Dana overhears stray Penobscot words in casual conversation on Indian Island. She was cheerful when, now no longer lengthy ago, one among her sons, who’s in his forties, took a photograph of a beaver along with his iPhone and, in telling her about it, casually former the Penobscot note for the animal.

On a latest Thursday, Dana, addressing a class of five college students, suggested drawing family timber to assist be aware the words for various relatives, and learning the vocabulary for kitchen utensils whereas laying the table. She talked about the efficacy of pantomime, narrating as she pretended to dress, the usage of the Penobscot words for “shirt” and “pants” and “boots.” She held up pieces of assert paper with various words written on them—the usage of, as she always does, Siebert’s orthography—and admitted to having the note for “stove” taped up in her kitchen, to remind her to flip it off when she leaves the home. She sang a music about physique parts to the tune of “Ten Limited Indians.” She ended the lesson with a normal greeting, which translates as “How are you surviving today?” And then she offered the customary response: “It’s hard for these of us but living.” ♦

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