When we last left off in the story of what I’ve learned from nintaana ‘my daughter’ Seenseewia, my family and I were just a couple weeks away from the initial stay-at-home orders that were intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. Like many people, we were caught pretty unawares by the entire event but tried to make the best of it. We ordered more from local businesses and spent more time outdoors. Optimistically, I figured it would be a good chance to work more intensely on our Myaamiaataweenki ‘Miami language’. After all, we’d be “stuck” together for quite awhile and we might as well try to learn more. A natural transition was to play games outside. Seenseewia learned hopscotch from akiili ‘her mom’ pretty fast, and was pretty quick to use Myaamia with it, as well.
On our walks through the nearby natural areas, I would point out animals and other moving things that we saw. It was pretty natural to tell Seenseewia kwaahkwa noontawaki ‘I hear a Pileated woodpecker’ when one would drill on a tree somewhere nearby. We frequently encountered tapaahsiaki ‘Canada geese’ on the trails as well, and their distinct call was another thing that Seenseewia picked up on. These non-verbal cues (bird noises) made it easy for her to identify the creatures with their Myaamia names.
Once she was more familiar with those, I would stop and look at things that required a little more context for her to think about. One evening after a deluge of rainfall, the river overflowed its banks. When Seenseewia and I got down to the riverside the next afternoon, the water had receded and left dozens of tiny, dead fish lying about. We actually managed to glimpse eehsipana ‘raccoon’ scurrying away from us as quickly as its legs would carry it with a fish in its mouth! Seenseewia was immediately captivated by eehsipana and what it was doing. She wanted to know everything about it. I told her what it was called, what little I knew about the habits of eehsipananki ‘raccoons’, and how the dead fish all got there. Since then, Seenseewia has insisted on meeting eehsipana, despite my repeated assurances that they’re not particularly friendly animals.
Critters continued to be a great vehicle for learning and soon I felt it was time to try things that weren’t moving around. So we started gathering various edible plants and learning their names. The complication here was that plant identification was not a strong point of mine (and still isn’t). This actually ended up being a good thing though because it meant I was learning the same things at the same time as nintaana ‘my daughter’. The first thing we discovered were the wild wiinhsihsiaki ‘onions’, which grew along the trail next to the river. I pulled one up and let Seenseewia take a bite of it, and she immediately wanted to learn more plants. We learned mihšiinkweemiši ‘Bur oak tree’ together, again because they grow along our trails, and then moved on to ahsenaamiši ‘Sugar maple’. Those were a little harder to find because we had to make our way to Miami University’s wooded areas, but Seenseewia enjoyed hearing about maple sugaring and wanted to try it when the time came.
It seemed like things were just going to keep getting better. Four weeks later, though, the reality of our isolation started to affect us. We’d been around each other for such a long time that even the cats and dog were trying to find space away from us. So finding time apart from each other became a challenging necessity for our own well-being, and resulted in some disagreements and generally uncooperative behavior from Seenseewia, as well as from the adults in the house. We eventually found a balance between together and alone time. This was good for our mental health, but did result in an almost total stoppage of language learning. Seenseewia quickly reverted to her “I don’t want to speak Myaamia” attitude, and I was burnt out enough to just let it happen. If it prevented a meltdown, it was worth it. So I decided to shift to learning more about cultural topics, such as stomp dancing or working outside, instead of only language.
The rest of the year and a half leading to March 2022, was spent as an interesting combination of learning situations. Sometimes, Seenseewia would be extremely engaged and at other times would insist that we not use Myaamia at all. Several times she’s come home from school irritated that her classmates wouldn’t listen to her; “I told them ciinkweepilo and they didn’t listen” (ciinkweepilo ‘sit down’). This was another instance where we had to explain to her that not everyone knew Myaamia like she did. This time, she took that lesson to heart, and it’s very common now for her to “auto-translate” herself into English when she’s talking to her grandparents, friends, and even her Myaamia cousins who are also learning their heritage language. It has been especially interesting to see her interactions with her cousins. The oldest ones will refer to me as uncle because Seenseewia told them to call me nišihsa ‘uncle’, but they couldn’t remember the Myaamia term. Conversely, Seenseewia calls one of her aunts ‘auntie’ because she doesn’t usually remember nisekohsa.
This fall, Seenseewia will begin kindergarten and it will be a brand new challenge for all of us. She has already started telling my wife and I that even though she’s scared to go to a new school, she will be brave and wants to teach her future friends Myaamia. I think she’s going to do well, and that those new friends are going to be hearing a lot of Myaamiaataweenki!