“The Elders used to call Myntdu River their mother,” shares H. H. Mohrmen, a Jaintia Unitarian minister and an environmentalist from Meghalaya. Mohrmen is in a jeep with journalists, who are traveling to cover a unique riverine festival that is hosted by Elders from communities downstream of Myntdu. The drive on winding roads in the West Jaintia Hills passes by tall areca nut trees wrapped in pepper vines. Below, a rust-hued riverbank glistens in the sun.
Wanbdi Wakita, whose name translates into English as Looking Eagle, was born at home with the help of a midwife on a breezy day in October in the community of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation. It was 1940. Overseas the world was at war, but a different kind of struggle was taking place at home.
Dormant for 150 years, a lost Indigenous language is brought back to life by a Native woman, setting into motion a cultural revitalization process.
Language extinction can lead to cultural annihilation. When a language is lost, a culture is lost as songs, ancient ceremonial chants and vibrant storytelling traditions vanish. In North America, the legacy of settler colonialism, a violent and racist boarding school system, where Native children were forbidden to speak their mother tongues, endangered many Indigenous languages, driving some to extinction.