Director Anne Makepeace offers a unique perspective on the fight to recover and preserve native languages in her latest documentary, “We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân”. The subject of her film is the indigenous Wampanoag nation of southeastern Massachusetts who helped the first Pilgrims in America survive. While their good deeds ultimately resulted in the aboriginal culture’s demise, the Wampanoag language rapidly declined as their traditions were replaced in the shadows of imperialism. No known native speakers have survived for the past 150 years as the Wampanoag language has becomes completely dormant.
Centuries later, a new generation of speakers is emerging under the direction of linguist Jessie Little Doe. A descent of the Wampanoag culture herself, Doe discovered the native language in researching her ancestors and found that they were attempting to communicate through a dead language. She decided to revive the language by creating the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, a group whose primary focus is to rescue Wampanoag from the verge of extinction. Through her continuous efforts, Doe’s research has developed into weekly vocabulary meetings and reading through Wampanoag copies of The Bible to search for words they have not recognized yet. Though tedious, the group’s passion to preserve their dying culture has renewed Wampanoag as a living language that is now being taught to even younger generations.
“We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân” engages the audience in the story of the Wampanoag Indian language’s return while demonstrating how Americans are the link between preserving their heritage for future generations. It also places a heavy emphasis on the struggle between assimilation and cultural preservation with a focus on the tribe’s demise in the midst of European settlement. As the language disappears around the world, viewers are given insight regarding the traditions and cultural history of the Wampanoag community from the group’s discoveries, which may be the path towards a once again thriving future for the Wampanoag people.
About the Review: Kaitlyn Roche is a third-year student at the University of Texas at Austin and currently works in the Marketing department of KLRU. She has contributed to online and print publications such as A.V. Club, San Antonio Express-News and Verbicide Magazine.