‘Kwawaldam?’: Middlebury Language Schools to Offer Abenaki Pilot Program

Water-related Abenaki words from the free language teaching website WesternAbenaki.com, created by Jesse Bowman Bruchac. Image by Lake Champlain Committee.

In partnership with Jesse Bowman Bruchac, a Nulhegan Abenaki citizen and a teacher of the Abenaki language, the Middlebury Language Schools is launching a pilot School of Abenaki in summer 2020. Native to New England and Quebec, the Abenaki language is considered endangered. In offering the program Middlebury hopes to play a role in preserving and honoring local Abenaki language and culture. Bruchac says, “I don’t try and speak Abenaki to have new words, I try and speak Abenaki to understand the culture and my connection to it.”

The School of Abenaki will take advantage of Middlebury’s proximity to Abenaki tribes by supplementing language learning with cultural activities. Activities may include basket making workshops, drumming, storytelling and traditional crafts, as well as a possible visit to a nearby Abenaki cultural center. Students will also learn to play games, some of which are drawn from hundreds of years of gameplay in “Ndakinna” — the Abenaki name for New England. “Being within Ndakinna, our homeland, will be a tremendously powerful reminder of the connection of our language work to the land that surround us,” Bruchac said.

Click here to read about the language program on the Vermont Public Radio website.