INDEPENDENT LENS: We Are Still Here – Âs Nutayuneân

INDEPENDENT LENS: We Are Still Here – Âs Nutayuneân

Wed, 03/21/2012 - 8:00pm

Pictured: Jessie Little Doe Baird, a Wampanoag who spearheaded the effort to bring an American-Indian language back to life after many generations without native speakers.

Credit: Courtesy of Anne Makepeace

Witness the resurrection of the Wampanoag language more than a century after the last native speaker died.

We Still Live Here - Âs Nutayuneân, airing Wednesday, March 21 at 8 p.m. on WXXI World (DT21.2/cable 524), tells the remarkable story of the recent cultural and linguistic revival of the Wampanoag tribe of Southeastern Massachusetts. Their ancestors ensured the survival of the Pilgrims — and lived to regret it. Now they are bringing their language home again. Produced and directed by Anne Makepeace, We Still Live Here - Âs Nutayuneân is hosted by Mary Louise Parker.

The story begins in 1994 when Jessie Little Doe, an intrepid, thirty-something, Wampanoag social worker, began having recurring visions and dreams: familiar-looking people from another time addressing her in an incomprehensible language. Jessie was perplexed and a little annoyed — why couldn't they speak English? She soon realized they were speaking Wampanoag, a language no one had used for more than a century.

This astonishing discovery sent Jessie and the members of her community on an unprecedented odyssey that would lead her to a linguistics research fellowship at MIT and the discovery of a huge trove of documents written in Wampanoag, including deeds, contracts, and an entire translation of the King James Bible (published at Harvard in 1663). Together with her MIT colleagues and the Wampanoag community, Jessie achieved something that had never been done before — bringing an American Indian language back to life after many generations without native speakers. By unlocking the secrets of the Wampanoag language, the community has been able to rediscover their history and culture. Now a new generation of children is breathing life into what was once thought to be a lost language.