Part 2: 11 months – 2 years
In my last post, I wrote about the first year of teaching and learning about Myaamiaataweenki with nintaana ‘my daughter’ Seenseewia. In this post, I want to cover what happened from the end of that post (when she was about 11 months old) to just before her second birthday. There was a lot happening in this time frame! My wife, Peehkateewa, and I really had our work cut out for us.
Time really started to fly once Seenseewia started walking. It seemed like every moment was something different and often provided a new opportunity for her to learn. She was taking in the world around her as fast as she could, and it was a lot of work keeping up! I think that at least some part of this experience is the same for all parents. By around her first birthday, Seenseewia was speaking “full baby sentences”; things like “I’m hungry” or “don’t want it”. We were also starting to get little bits of Myaamia baby sentences such as “pyaalo” and “neeyolaani kati”. It was pretty challenging to hear and understand her English phrases, and even more so her Myaamia ones!
Peehkateewa and I were very fortunate to be able to provide the opportunity for Seenseewia to regularly interact with a community of Myaamiaki at Miami University.This provided a good opportunity to surround her a little more with Myaamia language and topics of learning. For example, she had the opportunity to attend Stomp Dance practices. At practices, she would try her best to keep up with the dancing (usually resulting in a nap in her baby carrier), but also got to listen to Myaamia being spoken to various levels around her. Seenseewia visiting the Myaamia Center was a great experience for her, and for the Myaamia Heritage Program students as well. A few of them have told me that they loved speaking Myaamiaataweenki with her because they felt like she was “on their level”. I feel like most of these students were underselling their own abilities, though.
Despite these great opportunities, I was still afraid that increasing English in our house would lead to some kind of stagnation with her Myaamia development. Instead, it was comforting to see that she was hearing and understanding things in both languages. However, it was difficult to know where her understanding of which language to use was at. Up until a little after her first birthday, I was asking her yes or no questions, such as ayiihkwiyani-nko ‘are you hungry?’ that could be answered in either Myaamia or English. So I decided to start asking her more specific questions in Myaamia, such as killa-nko myaamia ‘are you a Myaamia person?’ or taanaaha seenseewia ‘where’s Seenseewia?’ and seeing how she’d reply.
At first, she was hesitant to speak, usually preferring to point at things (like she does in the videos). It was also interesting to see her interact with different people, especially between groups that did or didn’t speak Myaamia. When Myaamia students greeted her with “aya” she’d respond right back; when her grandparents asked her “how are you”, she’d provide a thumbs up or similar affirmation. We know for sure that she was developing conversational skills. An excellent test of her new abilities came during the Miami Tribe’s 2018 summer educational programs and Annual Gathering. This was Seenseewia’s first summer “as a real person” (meaning, moving around and talking to people on her own), so Peehkateewa and I were very interested to see what she’d do.
Predictably, she threw herself into the experience. She tried to join every activity and often threw a fit when she was unable to participate on her own or not permitted. She was especially eager to sing Myaamia songs and was delighted to take part in the various dances that the participants were performing. She was even getting “private tutoring” (for example, practicing words) from many of the counselors and participants at the programs. She also had an experience that gave me a bit of a scare. She was shouting “naswa!” (lenaswa ‘cow’) at the cows in a cattle pen nearby. The bull in that pen was not amused, not backing down, and neither was Seenseewia. Luckily, one of her cousins was there to distract her and move her on to a safer activity.
The two weeks she spent surrounded by Myaamia family and friends was also a key moment for her learning about Myaamionki ‘Myaamia homelands’. After we returned home, she remembered Oklahoma, and could tell us that she had friends there. She knew the difference in places, and recognized that she had a common thread with people between them. This was an important lesson for me, too, as it reminded me that since Myaamiaki live in diaspora across the United States and the world, even the smallest community connections were important for Seenseewia’s continued growth as a Myaamia person. Even now she asks when she can go back to Oklahoma “to see cousins and akima ‘Chief’.”
In the Autumn of 2018, Seenseewia was still on a roll. She started to take it upon herself to teach everyone Myaamia words, much to the confusion of almost everyone outside her tribal community. The incident that sticks out the most to me was her finding a toy kooka ‘frog’ at the grocery store. She happily pointed at it and carried it around so that I couldn’t say no to buying it without causing a scene. When it was time to check out, the cashier noticed her and started a very interesting exchange. This would end up being the first time I experienced Seenseewia “language code switching.” Language code switching happens when a person speaks more than one language and alternates use of those languages depending on changing contexts, like a change in audience or location.
Cashier: “What do you have there, sweetie?”
Seenseewia: “kooka! kooka twaan!” (“kooka! kooka eehtwaani!” adjusted from baby Myaamia)
The cashier was very obviously confused, so I started to explain. Seenseewia cut me off by holding the kooka up to the cashier and repeating its name. “Kooka! Kooka!” It wasn’t helping, so I prepared to step in. Once again, I was too slow. “Frog. I have frog!” At last the cashier understood and gave her a sticker, then hurried away from us. Seenseewia made no secret about being annoyed by having to explain herself repeatedly. In the span of about 30 seconds, Seenseewia taught me everything I ever wanted to know about language code switching!
By the end of the year, Seenseewia was speaking fairly complex English sentences and beginning to try putting different Myaamia words together, occasionally also adding English in as well. “This is my piloohsa ‘baby’!” It was really fun seeing her experiment with words and who would understand what. To cap it all off, after having heard the “aya aya song” (a song used to teach Myaamia greeting terms) for just under 2 years, Seenseewia finally decided it was time to sing it on her own.
This really reinforced that she was listening to others, and learning all the time. I knew that I needed to step up my learning, too, if I wanted to keep up with her!