With only 50
speakers left, tribe's language to be preserved by team of IU
Condensed by Native Village
Bloomington, Indiana. -- The
National Endowment for the Humanities' "We the People" project
has awarded Indiana University anthropologists $250,000 to
transcribe, translate and publish the oral literature of the
Assiniboine. The Assiniboine are a northern Plains Indian tribe.
Only about 50 living members remain fluent in Nakota, their
IU professors Raymond DeMallie
and Douglas Parks, and and former research associate Linda
Cumberland, will publish two volumes of Assiniboine oral
histories. Also assisting is native Assiniboine scholar Tom
Shawl of Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana. The team also will
publish a language dictionary.
The Assiniboine's language was
long neglected because anthropologists believed -- incorrectly
-- that the tribe was closely related to the Sioux. They were
also misidentified with the Stoneys of Alberta, Canada.
project will be carried out at in Bloomington, Indiana, and in
Assiniboine communities at Fort Belknap Reservation and Carry
The Kettle Reserve in Saskatchewan. Anthropologists will use
DeMallie's transcriptions of texts from the 1980s and from newer
recordings Cumberland made in Canada. The team will analyze the
sound-recorded texts using Sound Forge, a digital audio editing
More northern in location than
the Sioux, the Assiniboine's oral traditions were influenced by
"Through intermarriage with
Crees, many elements of Cree oral tradition were introduced into
Assiniboine oral literature," DeMallie said. "And at the same
time the Assiniboines intermarried with French and Canadian fur
traders and their mixed-blood descendants, and the result is
that elements of European folktales found their way into
Assiniboine stories as well."
The Assiniboine had fewer
horses than most plains tribes. so they used pre-horse hunting
techniques like communal buffalo drives longer than most. This
is one reason anthropologists think they can learn a great deal
about very old Plains survival strategies through Assiniboine
The researchers expect the
volumes to be completed in two years.