Giro hąwe gihįnka!

Alright, so in all fairness, I bet 99% of you all have no idea what that title says.  That’s fine.  I don’t expect you all to because the language it is in was so close to dying that that same percent of people I mentioned above don’t know what American Indian tribe speaks it.  The language it is in is called Báxoje-Jíwere-Ñút’achi.  At least that is it’s proper name.  A lot of people simply call it Chirewe.  That is the language of the Oto (Jíwere), the Ioway (Báxoje), and the Missouria (Ñút’achi).  Today we are gonna talk about this wonderfully beautiful language.  Why are we learning about this today?  Well I will tell you why.  It’s Father’s Day today in the United States.  My father’s family is Oto.  Now, I’m not gonna go into great detail on the language, I mean I could since I’ve studied and presented several papers on it, but those are more technical and geared more towards linguists.  Let’s get started!

As mentioned above, the Chiwere language is the language of the Oto, Missouria, and the Ioway peoples and is a part of the Siouan language family.  It is related to the Ho-Chunk or Winnebago language and some linguists lump it into the Chiwere language group because of where these languages originated.  The tribes are from area around the Great Lakes and there is some debate on whether or not they should be called Canadian tribes or American tribes.  Honestly, does it really matter at this point?  They were up there, but they were also nomadic-ish.  The truth is that Ho-Chunk language is sometimes grouped in with the Chiwere is because it is part of the Chiwere-Winnebago group when it is actually pretty much a language isolate that has some resemblance of being related to the other languages in the group.

Languages?  But Becca, I thought you said that Chirewe was one language.  Well, it sort of is, but sort of isn’t.  For this post, we are going to ignore the Ho-Chunk language since it isn’t part of the Chiwere-exclusive languages.  Okay?  Great!  Originally each tribe was separate and had their own form of the Chirewe language.  This is where things get a bit confusing because of differing accounts of what exactly happened when the United States white-folk decided to “Americanize the savages” by forcing them onto reservations and making them learn English with horrid consequences if they spoke their native language.  The Ioway have a pretty easy to figure out history for the most part.  I’m no expert on the history of the Ioway tribe, but from what I’ve been told is that the transition from their traditional lands to the first reservation in Kansas was not exactly peaceful, but it wasn’t that bloody either.  The move from Kansas to Oklahoma was peaceful enough and they retained quite a bite of details about their language.  The Oto and the Missouria are where things are the most confusing.  You see, while there is one tribe called the Otoe-Missouria tribe, they were originally two separate tribes from two separate areas. This meant that the language were originally different enough to be classified as two languages.  Today they are classified as one.  The reason why the tribe, and now the language, are classified as one is because of one of these scenarios.  I say one of them, because of the differing accounts of what happened.

Account One

The Oto tribe and the Missouria tribe had their numbers reduced due to small pox.  Since the tribes spoke what was effectively two dialects of the same language, they joined together and were later moved onto the Big Blue Reservation in Nebraska.

Account Two

The Oto and the Missouria were put onto the same reservation, the Big Blue Reservation, because the United States Government thought that since they spoke the same language they would get along.  The government completely disregarded the fact that the Oto were at war with the Missouria tribe and forced them on the reservation anyway.

Account Three

A combination of account one and account two.

Account Four

The Missouria tribe were already on their way to the Big Blue Reservation.  The Oto were trying to escape the United States by going back up into Canada and were captured by the US military and forced onto the reservation with a tribe that they may or may not have been at war with at the time.

Which one is true?!?!  Honestly, I have heard all of them so many times that I probably couldn’t tell you and I’ve read books with all of them as well.  The one that makes the most sense to me is Account Three because I know that some of my relatives that were Oto (my father and I are Oto, not Missouria) died of small pox and I also know that the Oto and the Missouria were on again and off again at war in the same way that the Oto were with the Kaw.  They got along at times and other times they hated each other.  I also know that during that time the United States Government pretty much completely disregarded anything to do with consideration towards the Indian tribes and what their relations were with other tribes.  Of course, Account Four could also work in there as well.  So, who knows.  Whatever the cause was, the end result was that the two tribes were forced onto a reservation they didn’t want to be on with a tribe they didn’t want to be with and their languages melded together before they started being punished for using their language.

Since the languages melded together so well, it is now difficult to separate the two.  However!  Yes, there has to be a however.  As it turns out, besides the Ioway language, the Oto language is fairly well documented for a language that was originally a non-written language.  The reason is that the Oto were relatively friendly to the white-folk when they came across them.  In fact, the first tribe that Lewis and Clark came across while heading west was the Oto!  Fancy!  The Oto, despite being very war-like did not just go out to pick fights at random.  They didn’t collect scalps like a lot of other tribes did.  The Missouria and the Ioway didn’t really either.  This is because they tended to keep to themselves when they weren’t trading.  The Ioway have kept their language pretty well up and the Oto had some help by the white-folks that visited and tried writing it down.  The Missouria language did not fair so well.  It was absorbed into the Oto language which remained pretty dominant and today a lot of the Otoe-Missouria language is mostly of the Oto form of the language with some Missouria words and some of the sentence structure.

Well, there you have it.  A fairly short introduction to the language of the Oto and Missouria people.  Also, if you noticed I used Oto and then used Otoe.  That is because when they started giving an Americanized term to the world the linguists used the Missouria word “oto” to refer to the Jíwere tribe.  This became Otoe over time for some reason or other.  I can never get a straight answer out of anyone.  I hope you learned some things today and I hope all you father’s have a great Father’s Day!  I will leave you all with the translation of the title of this article.

Giro hąwe gihįnka! = Happy Father’s Day.  It literally translates to “Happy day of my father”

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