Mahican Language

by Larry P. Madden Mahican Language

Some recent classes on the Mahican dialect of Algonquin language have been met with mixed reviews. Attendances versed in Munsee instruction hoped their familiarity with that language trail would give them a leg up but realizing otherwise they disappeared after the first few weeks. Mahican, an ancient form of Algonquian, was last spoke in Wisconsin by the Mohicans as late as the 1930. Although many of us have been kicking the idea for the classes around since the 1990s, Ms. Christianson of the Mohican library-museum in Bowler secured the grant to fund the endeavor. Ms. Molly Miller facilitates the classes we’ve been hoping for.

Mr. Chris Harvey from Canada instructs via Google Hangout. His extensive resumé and easy-going style has allowed those of varying fluency to meld together. Mr. Harvey’s website,, proclaims the staggering amount of Indigenous languages he has helped worldwide. We’re lucky to have such a decorated teacher dedicated to our cause.

Having shared his experience in Munsee, Menominee, and Anishinaabemowin questions often flow towards Mr. Harvey like a swollen river. The congenial instructor often interrupts his lessons to answer our curiosities and then carries on with the point he is trying to make as we experiment with an immersion style of learning, meaning no pens and paper allowed. With the secrets of word meanings unlocked, we began to recognize how root forms of words intertwine to form sentences. Beyond that, we’ve covered introductions, family members, clan affiliations and acts of picking up an object (fork, spoon, glass, and bowl) and principle directions. It is a great thing that we have this chance to learn, not only the Munsee dialect, but also the Mahican, which is shrouded by clouds of confusion over pronunciation. This program has winnowed out the confusing chaff and taken the academic safeguards to not only save this language, but to utilize it.

With any learning, one must clear the mind to enable the process, and as the weeks pass by this will begin to show. With the height of summer upon us and as family outings and demands mount, I would like to express my gratitude to those who choose to sacrifice time to this effort. With the original homelands ranging from what’s now called Vermont to the Atlantic, the Mahican tongue was spoken at many fires from north to south. It is an ancient language spoken on the rivers and mountains of the east for thousands of years. It is a gift from the Creator to have a chance to send those lyrical sounds to the old spirits of our ancestors.

If interested, even just to hear the sounds, join us at the Arvid E. Miller Library/Museum on Monday nights between 6 and 8 pm. Who knows? Maybe the language bug is hiding in you too.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.