The Spirit of the Language

We’ve heard overwhelmingly that land is sacred, and is the spirit of the language. The languages of those lands are best understood by the Indigenous Peoples of those lands. Each Indigenous language is inter-related with the land of its origin, and those languages are best understood when spoken about lands underfoot through ancestral lineage and connectedness. As nêhiyawak are ancestrally connected to various regions of lands on this continent, nêhiyawêwin understandings of the world are best understood by the land they’re connected to. 


Those who shared their knowledge in interviews and dialogue circles have said that the spirit of the language is also drawn from the Creator.  

Another example of nêhiyawêwin concepts to connect to for nêhiyawêwin learners, when one’s first language is English or a European language, is the idea of animacy or inanimacy. Where European languages, such as Spanish or French, differentiate between nouns through gender, nêhiyawêwin refers to a noun as either animate or inanimate. It should be noted, there are no hard set rules on what constitutes animacy or inanimacy. For instance, while liquids are viewed as inanimate though they have motion, asiniy, or stones and rocks, are viewed as animate because they carry grandfather spirit. Some berries are animate, while others are inanimate. These differences are best learned through language immersion. 

Nêhiyawêwin is also a polysynthetic language, in that verbs and nouns are often joined together within prefixes and suffixes to create whole expressions within a single word. Though the expressed thought may be a longer term or concept, the expression may be viewed linguistically as one word. This may be unfamiliar to English or European language speakers who are used to longer sentences to form expressions or thought, whereas the morphological conjugation of verbs and nouns together within a word can be used to form an expression. 


nêhiyawêwin laws that guide nêhiyaw protocol

  • Relational kinship (wahkotowin) 

  • Ancestral Indigenous law and governance systems 

  • “esakewet” “the sun gives us life,” meaning a new baby is born

  • The language illustrates the relationality with all our living relatives (Sky, Water, Earth Nations)

  • Ancestral Indigenous law and governance systems must guide nêhiyaw education

  • Prayers and ceremony bring the language alive

  • Relational kinship, as nêhiyaw law, guided the language and the connection to environment

  • The spirit of the Rock Man asiniynâpewîn - ceremonies.

  • No such thing as evil in our language - as all living beings are created. English introduced the concept (fear, guilty, shame, evil)

  • “kâ nîkan, kâ- kânîkanôtehtoyak kohtâwînaw” “send to the Creator first”

  • Laws, prayers, pipe, protocol and ceremony begin and guide learning


The nature of nêhiyawêwin and its connection to the spirit and the land

  • nêhiyawêwin is alive in transgenerational knowledge sharing

  • nêhiyawêwin illustrates the relationally with the winged, four-legged and two-legged

  • Our language is medicine

  • Worldview embedded in morphosyntax 

  • iskotew / iskwêwin

  • animate / inanimate -
    animate concepts are “elevated to the living”

  • “ki-sakîhitin” not “ni-sakîhitin” (Andrea Custer)

  • The language is spirit 

  • transgenerational knowledge sharing (from grandparents down, and reversed, from grandchildren up)

  • Verb conjugation as preferred for language acquisition

  • Orthography excludes:
    “B-D- F-G-J-K-P-Q-T-V-X-Z” (Reuben Quinn)

  • When one passes on- “kâkîhitiht” how they brought the spirit into the world 

  • Syllabics - “nehiyaw atahkipehikana” spirit markers”

  • “kîspin kânitawipîkiskwâtakik kimosominâwak, namoya enânisitohtânâwak” If I spoke with the ancestors, I wouldn’t understand them. 


Connection of the land to the language and the spirit

  • nêhiyawêwin is born and spoken from the land and the environment

  • Land-based skills and verbs guide nêhiyawêwin language learning and immersion environments

  • Indigenous languages refer to specific land areas that those languages come from, and the holistic ecologies alive in those environments

  • Land-based skills and actions (verbs) 

  • language is medicine - medicine in the language/land

  • Land-based education is the best practice - to learn nêhiyawêwin

  • Supreme being is about love, and plants show love:
    “esâkipakâcik”(love which emerges from the plants) 

  • love is in the land abundance

  • “mitehimina” - “heart berries”
    strawberries - miteh

  • Relationality of “camâksiw”

  • ancestral parenting - e- ewâspitat, the moss bag

  • Ceremony 

  • Connection between wiyipâtâpowewin “women’s life blood” and land beautification