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Indigenous language forum at C.M. Russell Museum



Great Falls, Montana – A special speaker series on Indigenous languages was held by the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls in conjunction with the Gathering of Families festival.

Jeremy Red Eagle, a speaker at the event, concentrates his effort on making products that are culturally significant to Dakota boys and men.

Natural dyes, earth paints, and several wood species are among the supplies.

Red Eagle’s speech was centered on culture and language.

“I think it just helps with individuals’ identity of who they are and where they come from and that, I’ve always cared about,” Red Eagle said. Our way of life, our traditional ways, our stories. Naturally, as you grow older, you ask more questions, you dig deeper into things, and you start to find stuff out. Language is key to that.”

Indigenous languages and traditions were deeply valued by Charles Russell, as evidenced by the legacy of his artwork.

Although Russell frequently honors Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL) in his artwork, there hasn’t been much research done in this field up until now.

“Your viewpoint of things will change as you know the language and as you learn those things,” Red Eagle said. “When you listen to fluent speakers and fluently comprehend what they’re talking about and the things that they share, there is the same kind of lost-in-translation.”

Red Eagle talked about how Russell’s depictions of PISL in his paintings were crucial to comprehending the societies that employed PISL.

He added that language and culture are inextricably linked.

“I think that there’s so many of our people that are in jeopardy of just becoming lost in society. As our way of life disappears, our language, all of those things, at what point do we ask ourselves, ‘who are we?’

Red Eagle has worked with youth to help them rediscover who they are via the medium of art.

“There’s a spiritual as well as a logical explanation of why our people didn’t do certain things, and if we can go back to understanding and learning, that is going to help you as an individual,” he said.


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