Have you ever wondered what the first peoples of native North America thought when they encountered Europeans for the first time? As a person indigenous to North America, I am reminded on a daily basis that linguistic imperialism is a reality I must endure my entire life. I have to learn foreign language place names, read maps inscribed with those names, and listen to stories that rewrite native lands into colonial places. The greatest and most painful erasure is the persistent silencing of indigenous voices. This cartoon became a way of imagining “in other words” the first moment of encounter between the native peoples on the Atlantic coast and the Viking explorers.

So, I turned back the clock a thousand years to imagine what the first peoples of the Americas thought when they first saw strangers strolling on their beaches. Who were these strange creatures that waded ashore on native land? Were they human? 

As a member of the Wabanaki confederacy, the people of the dawn, I imagined walking along a familiar beach to see for the first time a Viking in full armor. It would be a strange sight. Despite the stranger, it is still my Wabanaki world. The familiarity of my world is punctuated by my encounter with the stranger who embodies the strangeness. The first frame sets up the encounter between Wabanaki worlds and Norse worlds. It also positions the reader/viewer to assume the indigenous perspective. How do these Wabanaki observers make sense of the anomalous apparition in their world? The first task is to recognize the stranger as “strange” and the second is to reconcile the foreignness of the anomaly within the Wabanaki world.

The “Going Native” cartoon for this issue of Anthropology News was an exercise in celebration of the International Year of Indigenous Languages, personal discovery, and reverse linguistic imperialism. It is also an opportunity to highlight the discoveries that come from the collaborative aspect of much of my work in indigenous language vitality. I learned Maliseet as my first language but the American school system offered neither support for Maliseet language instruction nor accommodation. By the time I finished high school my primary language became English. My personal experience of grappling with linguistic imperialism includes traumatic episodes that I’ve shared elsewhere. For this celebration I focus on the creative energies that could serve as important catalysts for tipping endangered languages toward language life and vitality.

This issue’s cartoon required my close collaboration with a fluent speaker of Maliseet. I am re-acquiring Maliseet and I needed the help of an expert speaker. Allow me to introduce you to my mother, Henrietta Black. She is a respected Maliseet elder residing on Tobique First Nation, New Brunswick, Canada.