Native Village Youth and Education News
October, 2009


With only 50 speakers left, tribe's language to be preserved by team of IU anthropologists
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 tribal language

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.

The 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 program.

More northern in location than the Sioux, the Assiniboine's oral traditions were influenced by others.

"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 oral histories.

The researchers expect the volumes to be completed in two years.

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