Language apprentices immersed in language, culture and history

DeJonay Morseau and Kendall Race have always shared an ancestral tree, and now they also share a passion for revitalizing the Potawatomi language. They became the second pair of language apprentices this year, studying under former apprentices—now language specialists—Carla Collins and Kyle Malott.

DeJonay and Kendall were both encouraged by their aunt, Carla, to apply for the apprenticeship. Kendall was actually living in Wisconsin while Carla was an apprentice and here in Michigan when Carla was first learning the language from instructors. He got to witness the learning process, and it sparked something.

Both DeJonay and Kendall have been around the language all their lives, but they’re now diving into it like never before.

“We’re just all working together,” DeJonay said about the Language Program staff.

Monday and Wednesday afternoons, Dejonay and Kendall hunker down in the Language & Culture multipurpose room with Carla and Kyle, soaking in as many verbs, cultural knowledge, and more verbs as they can. After 4–5 hours of that, they head to classes and learn more.

“It doesn’t always click,” Kendall joked, saying there are times when the pair feel overwhelmed, but when they keep at a steady pace, eventually everything comes together and they understand.

“It’s like a class,” DeJonay said. “We’re learning the history, we’re learning language.”

“Where the words come from,” Kendall added. “Some of the words we got while we were across the country.”

Take wizho, which means “whale.” Whales don’t live in the Great Lakes region, which means an ancestor travelled to a coast and brought that word back to our people.

“You can see how connected we were, around the world,” DeJonay said.

DeJonay and Kendall experienced a 2-day language immersion camp with Carla and Kyle this June 5 and 6 at Warren Dunes State Park. They prepared flash cards before they left to reference if needed. Otherwise, DeJonay joked, “It might be really quiet.”

Their summer schedule will include Kë Gbéshmen, a start to their goals of working with our nation’s youth. Kendall hopes to be teaching basics to kids by the end of the summer. DeJonay and Kendall are writing commands to accompany classic games like Monopoly, Uno, and Go Fish and the traditional games Shishibé and Pidro so people can play while only speaking Potawatomi. For Monopoly, they even translated the Community Chest and Chance cards.

“I also want to work with the kids because that’s another goal of ours,” DeJonay said, “to start with the young ones and them grow up learning and knowing the language because that’s how we’re eventually going to have fluent speakers.”

Kendall is currently learning a few other skills he hopes will support language learning in the community. He just completed his first year at SMC, studying general education courses before transferring to Western to study audio engineering. Kendall described apps that could help train speakers that he hopes to work on using his degree.

Both apprentices feel honored to be serving their community in this way. Their contract is for 3-years, and they hope to be master speakers when they finish and take on apprentices of their own.

“There’s a commitment after,” DeJonay said. “Not that it was holding me back from doing it, but at the same time, you know what you’re getting yourself into. People are depending on us.”

The apprentices do not have any trips planned to Wisconsin because they have master speakers right here from whom they can learn. That’s what this apprenticeship program is all about, after all.

“If we didn’t have any speakers, we wouldn’t be a sovereign nation,” Kendall said.

He clarified that knowing our language is not the only piece of what makes our nation sovereign, but it’s a piece of the puzzle that makes our nation whole.