Howard and Bernice

Howard Hill

For the past two years, I have been going to the home of Howard and Bernice Hill to visit, share stories, and listen to Howard speak in Tuscarora. Prior to my language-based interactions with Howard and Bernice, Howard had been working with various community members and scholars for many years. When I asked him how long it had been since he began teaching, he couldn’t recall. But at 89 years young, Howard still goes to the adult language classes to assist Betsy Bissell, the other teachers and learners in the program. He has been very willing to work with me and when I asked to take his picture he said, “If it helps you with school, go ahead.” I appreciate his encouragement and patience with me while I try to balance my undergrad work (which does not specifically deal with language) and the Diaspora I find myself in, while I am away from my community and at school. I do not go over worksheets or read from a book, rather I listen to him recall stories from his childhood, in both English and Tuscarora.

However, it is obvious that we accomplish more work in our visits with the prompting of his wife, Bernice, as she tells him to “quit gabbing and answer Mia’s questions!” As my visits to their home increased, I began to find out very interesting things about their long lives. Particularly with Bernice, we began to have extensive and at times painful discussions about her experience at the Spanish-Ontario Boarding School, as a young girl. I recorded some of our conversations and presented some of this work to some of my other classes, but it has taken Bernice a long time to talk about the trauma that she faced as a young child. In relation to this blog, Bernice is Kitigan Zibi Anishnaabe and although she grew up speaking her communal language, after attending Spanish-Ontario, where children were punished for speaking anything other than English, she is no longer able to understand or speak it.

Bernice Hill

I am thankful for their willingness and patience to work with me, and I hope to continue to converse with them for many years to come!




4 Comments Add yours

  1. averagecollegekidsays says:

    It’s wonderful and enlightening the things that we can learn from our elders. I think it’s great that you are conducting native research and documenting their life experiences. The recorded word can be kept for years and years, and having that allows for future generations to relive the tales and learn from them. I’m sure you’ve gained the trust of these two earnest individuals, as you’ve spent two years of your time talking with them. It tells us a lot about the nature of relationships: they are fragile, far and few between, and are meant to be cherished.

  2. miishen says:

    I posted a comment on another post of yours; I was pointed to your blog by Polly N. I’m delighted to read that Bernice is Kitigan Ziibiing ‘Nishnaabekwe. I am Bahweting Anishinaabenini (Sault Ste. Marie, MI). If I understand correctly, Bernice is from Garden River, ON – I’m from just across the river from there. My family is from Ishkinigan’minis (Sugar Island, MI).
    I think you’re doing good work. If you ever need an Ojibwe speaking contact, or want to trade research notes (I’m a linguistic anthropologist by training), or want to discuss being native in academe – or if Bernice ever wants to hear anishnaabemowin (ojibwe language) spoken; then feel free to contact me. Please tell Bernice I said “aanii n’wiichkiiwehn.” (Hello cousin.)

    1. conceptualizingtuscarora says:

      That would be fantastic! I’ll tell Bernice about you when I go home for break!

  3. Carmen says:

    I think its awesome that such an easy yet incredibly insightful way to preserve a language is simply by speaking it with your elders. There’s just so much value in it, besides learning the language– you get a piece of their lives as well. I love this post. 🙂

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