Jessie ( Tobey White) Baird is remarkable. She has elevated herself to a place of authority and has yet to even produce a high school diploma ( she spent only a few years in Mashpee). No undergraduate credentials and the MIT business was a certificate for a few weeks of training according to many other Natives in the program. So how do you become a “LINGUIST” without an education? You destroy the Tribal Enrollment process because you don’t know how to access the very complicated state of the art program that set the standard for Native America, and begin adding people who do not qualify to be on the rolls, to help your cousin Cedric ( Tobey ) Cromwell. Then after you screw that up…true to form…you abscond and get that absolutely awesome grant for half a million.
Can Jessie translate something? A simple line, something other than the Lords Prayer that has been translated for centuries and is common. That’s what a linguist does. Won’t happen. You know why. And the language is extremely difficult to master but it’s available to the public. Who the hell knows….everyone always laughed when she was asked to do ” a prayer”….what was she saying ? Who knows? Jessie keeps her persona alive.
The Boston Globe Magazine article about her grant was a precious example of bad native pr…the whole thing about the ancestors speaking to her in a vision….is beyond ridiculous and so gah gah ancient Indian guru speak. According to tribal members who know…Jessie was a receptionist at the Tribal Council and began looking at the recognition paperwork and decided she would check out the language. Maybe the ancestors appeared at that point.
Who would tell such a humongous tale but Jessie ? Because if the ancestors show up in a vision, it ain’t good. Maybe they will show up and tell her to stop the chicanery and take her cousins Cedric and Aaron with her. They are, after all doing serious damage to the Tobey good name.
First Person/jessie little doe baird
A gift of gab
Mashpee Wampanoag linguist jessie little doe baird, 47, on bringing back her tribal tongue.
In 1993, you cofounded the project to reclaim Wopanaak, the language of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. Did you always want to become a linguist?
This started when I saw my ancestors in a vision. They asked if we were ready to bring our native language home again, after losing it for more than a century. I gauged interest and every response was positive.
Noam Chomsky once said he would have considered your work “impossible.” What drives you?
I feel I was born to do this. There’s a burning desire in me to reclaim what is Wampanoag.
A documentary on your tribe, We Still Live Here, screens today at the Woods Hole Film Festival. What do you want viewers to learn?
That studying our language and keeping our culture intact offers something to all of humanity.
Your daughter, Mae, 7, is the first native Wopanaak speaker in over a century. How is that progressing?
Not well. Putting her in public school was detrimental, because everything is in English. She’ll speak [Wopanaak at home], but seems to socially shy away from it because no one can understand her.
How do you remedy that?
Through a federal grant, we’re training apprentices to be fluent speakers. Hopefully in 2015, we’ll open up an elementary school in Mashpee where all the subjects are taught in Wopanaak. Children taught in their indigenous language are better able to cope with the pressures of their community.
How has life changed since you became a MacArthur Fellow last year?
The day I got the call, I was in tears just for the honor of someone recognizing what I do. It’s not a sexy career, and it’s lonely most of the time. When they told me I was getting half a million dollars, I nearly fell off my chair. Some will go to language-related work. I also paid off medical bills and plan to install insulation in my living room.
Besides education, how else would you like the language used?
I would like to write the stories of European contact from our own perspective. I want my ancestors’ voices heard.
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