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Vindication for the Mpakwithi First Nation through Language Revival

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Title:Vindication for the Mpakwithi First Nation through Language Revival
Authors:Barker, Xavier
Mark, Agnes
Kennedy, Victoria
Kennedy, Susan
Contributors:Barker, Xavier (speaker)
Mark, Agnes (speaker)
Kennedy, Victoria (speaker)
Kennedy, Susan (speaker)
Date Issued:03 Mar 2017
Description:The Mpakwithi first nation’s language reclamation shows the importance of language revival for the wellbeing, recognition and future existence of a first nation. The Mpakwithi, like other first nations from the Port Musgrave area on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula, after years of non-violent resistance, were forcibly removed from their land in 1963 by the Queensland Government to make way for a bauxite mine. The police razed their dwellings, churches and schools and the people were exiled to the northernmost area of Cape York. Sisters Agnes, Victoria and Susan Kennedy have grown up identifying as Mpakwithi. The Mpakwithi traditionally owns a dialect of the Anguthimri language complex. The last speaker of their language, their grandfather Don Fletcher, learned the language by escaping from mission dormitories to spend time with free Mpakwithi elders. The late linguist Terry Crowley recorded Fletcher’s knowledge in the 70s (Crowley 1975, 1981). However, Fletcher did not feel confident to speak texts other than sample sentences into a microphone. The Kennedy sisters continued to identify as Mpakwithi after Fletcher’s passing. Other traditional groups mocked the sisters for maintaining their identity and were suspicious that the sisters were pretending to belong to a clan that nobody had heard of in order to achieve a greater share of mining royalties. They were ridiculed and this led to a shared feeling of depression. In 2016, songs were recorded that the sisters had learnt from their grandfather. They had been singing them with little understanding of the words. A comparison with the published sketch grammar and wordlist demonstrated to them – and the doubters – that they had indeed been singing an otherwise silenced language. The confirmation was a relief for the sisters and they felt at once relieved and vindicated. Remarkably, the Mpakwithi had preserved features of the unusual Mpakwithi phonology that are foreign to English (Crowley 1976, 1980). Australian first nation revival projects often have no material to start with other than word lists. The recent Mpakwithi recording work has added an unusual dimension to this revival project: a small corpus of literature created by an elder before the silencing of the language. Work has begun publishing the songs and translating new material into Mpakwithi for the Kennedy sisters to teach to their grandchildren. For a people suffering from the trauma of decimation, dispossession, forced migration and public mockery, the rediscovery and confirmation of their identity will secure the existence of this first nation. References Terry Crowley (1975) Cape York tape transcriptions. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, manuscript MS 1002. Terry Crowley (1976) Phonological change in New England. In Grammatical categories in Australian Languages, ed. R. M. W. Dixon, 19–50. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Terry Crowley (1980) Phonological targets and northern Cape York sandhill. In Papers in Australian Linguistics 13, 241–258. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. Terry Crowley (1981) The Mpakwithi dialect of Anguthimri. In Handbook of Australian languages vol. 2, eds. R. M. W. Dixon and B. J. Blake, 147–194 + map p. 146. Canberra: ANU Press.
Appears in Collections: 5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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