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.
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!