Press 1 for Algonquain

English is not native to the United States

Aaniin ezhi-ayaayan? Niin Zhakz nindizhinikaaz.

You have no idea what’s written unless you’re one of a very select group of people. It’s not a secret or dirty language, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for not knowing what it says. No one has ever taught you the meanings of these words, and you’ve probably never heard or read them before. I simply said “How are you? My name is Jax” in Ojibwe.

You’ve never learned these words because as you’re proving right at this very moment, you speak English. The past decade has been showered in heated debate between non-English speaking and English speaking people in America.

Frequently, stories about students who can’t speak English appear in the news and spark controversy. Phonelines offer a Spanish option, and you’ve no doubt witnessed in almost all stores the signs in both English and Spanish. Because of our proximity to Canada, we Michiganders have French translations as well. The most notable retaliation to this circumstance is the hollering of “This is America! Speak English!”

The problem I have with this sentiment is that it is America and we do speak English. English comes from the motherland of England–not America. America has and always will be the proverbial “melting pot,” as so many people like to label it. It is absolutely intolerant to think English should be the only way and the only language in America. English speaking persons weren’t here first. The Dutch were, followed by the Spanish and the French. Before all of those people decided to plop their Galleons down on our shores, the Natives were established here for thousands of years.

To this day, there is no “official language” of America. It varies from state to state and region to region. Louisiana offers French and English and New Mexico offers Spanish and English as their languages of state.

The argument about Spanish not being an American language is brought to a halt here: New Mexico. Ponder it for a moment. We have a state named after another country that speaks Spanish. Now, pull out your American map and count how many states have Native American names and Spanish names. Only five states have true “English” names. Arizona, the frontrunner for immigration buggery and general hatred of its indigenous people, is an abbreviation of a Spanish term.

The very namesake of our country is America Vespucci, which as I’m sure you can see is not a very English name. Michigan is a rough translation from Algonquin meaning “Big Sea Gate.” Look around you, the rivers, the towns you live in; how much of it is actually in English to begin with?

We can take a lesson away from all of this: We’re not an English speaking country and we never have been.


Nishin Jax, Nishin! (Good job Jax, Good Job!) Nin kinomaageiniini Dr. Scott Herron n’dizhnakaaz (I am a male teacher/professor named Dr. Scott Herron. N’gikandan minawaa ngaamo minawaa ojibeige Anishinaabemowin (I can understand and sing and also speak the Algonquin/Anishinaabe language). Giishpin g’gikandan Anishinaabemowin miidash giigido Anishinaabemowin maage Ojibwemowin, ambe minawaa g’biinwewidam mampii (If you want to understand the Indian/Algonquin language and then learn to speak Anishinaabe or Ojibwe language, then come and talk with me here)….SCIENCE 233 Wild Rice and Ethnobiology Lab, 591-2087,,,

What a great piece of writing Jax! No one could have said it better. Every time I see people jump on the “I hate emigrants” band-wagon, on face book, I tell them to “Speak Cherokee or get out!” The indigenous people of this continent were here long before Europeans came here and drew boundary lines on the ground.   

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