Words and songs in one’s mother tongue speak to the heart

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 17, 2015

“Being surrounded now by the Welsh language and culture gives me a sense of wholeness.” —Eileen Freels Peakman, Wales

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head,” Nelson Mandela once said. “If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Tina, Terry and Trent Fox’s comments on their love for their Stoney Nakoda language in last week’s column testify well to Mandela’s wisdom on the heartfelt power of one’s language of birth.

Responses from three of our coffee companions also testify to that wisdom and form a rainbow of hope embracing Cree, Welsh and German heritages.

From Edmonton, COLLEEN CHAPMAN wrote:

Twenty years ago I visited a pow wow. I had introduced myself to the woman sitting next to me in the gymnasium. She was Cree and we chatted as we waited for things to begin. When the drumming began I sat back, relaxed and let the rhythm take me away.

Then the woman leaned over and told me she loved the song they were singing. It was her favorite love song, she said.

Warren, I was gobsmacked. I was nearly 50 years old and it was the first time in my life that I realized that the "noise" they were making was a language, and those were words they were singing.  

First Nations languages are important for everyone to know about. And the song they are drumming may be a love song or an honour song that humanizes the people.

Colleen Chapman, Edmonton

From Wales, former Bow valley resident EILEEN FREELS PEAKMAN wrote:

I read this article with great interest. It hit home to me because I had always missed my Welsh birthplace roots. I never felt really at home in Canada for all the years I lived there. Being surrounded now by the Welsh language and culture gives me a sense of wholeness. Even though I do not understand many of the words, the essence is there.

I missed the closeness of families, and the language is so beautiful to hear. I really suffered from hiraeth, a Welsh word meaning love of home, love of family, love of country, love of the Welsh language.

Welsh young people in the fully Welsh speaking areas do not suffer the loss of identity that unfortunately has happened in the English speaking parts of Wales.

There is a real push by the Welsh government to have more Welsh language in the schools. We are gradually reclaiming the Welsh names of places, as well. So yes, the culture and language issues First Nations are encountering in Alberta are true in this lovely land, too.

One’s own language is far more descriptive of one's culture than any other language. There are no English words to describe the Welshness of Cymru (CUM-ree). The word actually means “people,” but the English when they invaded the mountains took that as the name of the people.

We are also a land of song, and that music is a very strong influence that must be kept to celebrate and make one's spirit whole.

You can see why Welsh is such an important language in many ways. I'm sure this is also true of the Nakoda and other aboriginal languages. Also much more colourful for those peoples who have an artistic and musical flair.

So it is very easy for me to realise how much the aboriginal cultures lose when the language is gone. It can be and must be reclaimed!

Eileen Freels Peakman, Y Pil, Wales

And finally from Cochrane, German-Canadian MARLIS McDOUALL wrote:

This was a column that resonated a lot with my own way of thinking and I don’t want to let it pass by without praising it.

It is not called “mother tongue” without reason, and I fully share Terry Fox’s sentiment regarding our languages. No matter how long I will live in and be a faithful citizen of this great country of Canada, German will always have been there first. I absolutely equate it with my personal identity. If I didn’t, it would be an act of disrespect towards my ancestors.

A gift from my grandfather, a beautiful handcrafted pewter plate with the coat of arms of my over-1,000-year-old hometown of Soltau (Salty Brook or Curtis Salta), bears the engraving “Vergiss die Heimat nicht” (“Do not forget your homeland”). I never will, because Heimat and mother tongue are one and the same. As Terry says, both make us belong somewhere, make us feel proud of our culture and remind us of our history and future.

To all the Stoney children I would say, Learn your language well, and be proud. First and foremost, it is who you are.”

Marlis McDouall, Cochrane

Thank you, dear readers, for your affirmations of how important first languages are for speaking to the heart.


© 2015 Warren Harbeck

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