The April 14 opening of the Algonquian library in Stony Brook University’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Building was a milestone in a decade-long initiative run by the Department of Linguistics, which has been working with leaders from the Native American nations of Eastern Long Island — Montaukett, Shinnecock and Unkechaug — to revitalize their Algonquian languages, which have not been spoken for many generations.
“We’re glad the library is open, but this is just the beginning of a continuing collaborative effort that will take many more years to complete,” said Lori Repetti, chair of the Department of Linguistics in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It’s going to take a sustained effort to keep the library open and the entire project going for future generations to learn.”
Those attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony were treated to breakfast and a viewing of the new library. Chief Harry Wallace of the Unkechaug Nation, an instructor in the Stony Brook Algonquian Language Revitalization Project, began the ceremony with a traditional Native American prayer.
After welcoming remarks by Vice President of Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Judith Brown Clarke, Executive Vice President and Provost Carl Lejuez addressed the crowd and recognized the people who made the library happen.
“This amazing group of individuals has collectively shown how important this revitalization project is,” said Lejuez. “It’s our responsibility to acknowledge the importance of the work that we have to do, and the opportunity we have. As we think about where we need to go with this, we realize that, frankly, we have a long way to go in furthering this area of scholarship and our ability to support indigenous research and indigenous peoples. We have a responsibility as a university to advance this knowledge and our challenge is to come back each year and show that we have done more.”
“This center is an amazing achievement and a testament to the dedication and hard work that went into creating this space,”said Betty Rosa, commissioner of the New York State Education Department. “We know what it means to appreciate our cultures, which is essentially a community’s way of passing history on to future generations. Culturally responsive education such as learning indigenous languages helps students develop a cultural identity and elevates them.”
The Hon. Lizbeth Gonzalez, Associate Justice of the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, addressed the historical importance of understanding the past. “Irrespective of the country or continent, and irrespective of ideology, our collective experience teaches us that assimilation – the so-called societal melting pot – wreaks historical harm, as the theft of our languages, our memories and our traditions weakens not only our connections to one another but also to our very selves,” said Gonzalez, who is also coordinator of the Algonquian Language Revitalization Project. “Through the Algonquian Language Revitalization Project here at Stony Brook University, we aim to reclaim the original languages of Long Island. In doing so, we more fully understand who we are, and what we are called to do.”
The Algonquian library collection features about 1,500 items including books, journals and more. Repetti said there are many more items waiting to be curated and catalogued and described an intense curating effort that included cleaning, repairing or restoring all items before they were displayed. The library also includes original artwork from Native artists Russell Peters and Lydia and Chris Chavez, and a reprint of a work list written by Thomas Jefferson in 1791 after meeting with two Unkechaug women, which is the oldest attested written documentation of the native tongue.
“The original goals of the project were to create grammars and dictionaries of the indigenous languages to develop teaching materials for the local school district and to teach this language to the community,” said Repetti. “One of my goals as chair has been to facilitate the organization of this collection and that has now been done.”
“This is a quest based upon a shared vision,” said Chief Wallace. “I’m not asking for your support. I’m not asking for financial assistance. I’m asking you to be part of this vision, to share it, and to make it a reality.”
The event concluded with traditional Native American drumming and singing in front of the mall fountain. The University Libraries’ book display in the Frank Melville, Jr. Memorial Library features collections on indigenous resistance, resilience and power in support of the Algonquian Language Revitalization Project.
— Robert Emproto