My piece, ęsané:yǫ (it will heal), is an oil painting which celebrates language as a fundamental element of cultural preservation. A community’s language is a unique part of its culture—connecting individuals to history, ancestry, and tradition. Language shapes our identity and perspective, giving us a shared framework for understanding our heritage.
As of a 2012 report, there are only 79 fluent speakers of Cayuga remaining. Given this decline, it is imperative that steps for language revitalization are taken to prevent the loss of a major cultural treasure. Cayuga is a well documented language with respect to vocabulary and grammar, and the basics can be learned by anyone, even if they do not have a fluent speaker as a relative or friend.
The first step of language revitalization is the acquisition of the language by adults, who can function as liasons by learning from elderly speakers. It is with this in mind that I chose to depict my cousin Dylan, who is also interested in language preservation and has made significant progress towards learning Cayuga by connecting with the elderly members of our family.
I have surrounded his image with 79 distinct conversational phrases in Cayuga, one for each remaining fluent speaker. After conducting considerable research on Cayuga, I handpicked these phrases and painted them i gold to reflect an optimistic view of the language and its future. Although the flow of these phrases may appear choppy, they stand as a kind of poem which represents the state of the language as currently exists: fragmented and clumsy, yet beautiful and harboring great potential.
Keeping these Aboriginal languages alive and sharing them will lead to the strengthening of generational bonds, and will foster a sense of Aboriginal community despite the diaspora. Languages are beautiful and invaluable, and my piece symbolizes the promise to keep ours alive.