Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

‘The Avengers’ and ‘Star Wars’ get Ojibwe and Lakota dubs from Indigenous language experts

a man stands in a recording studio holding a lightsaber
Anton Treuer records his parts for the Ojibwe language dub of "Star Wars: A New Hope."
Courtesy of Anton Treuer

Indigenous communities in and around Minnesota are taking the future of their language into their own hands in exciting new ways. There are two upcoming Indigenous language dubs coming to screens this year — Marvel’s “The Avengers” and “Star Wars: A New Hope.”

Thomas Draskovic is a Lakota language and culture specialist at the American Indian Magnet School in St. Paul. He voices Nick Fury in the Lakota language dub of “The Avengers,” which comes out on Disney+ June 14.

Anton Treuer is a professor of Ojibwe language at Bemidji State University. He voices several stormtroopers and a droid announcer in the Ojibwe language dub of “Star Wars: A New Hope,” which will be released later this year.

Both joined MPR News Guest Host Nina Moini to discuss their roles and the importance to Native communities.

What was it like to be part of an Ojibwe language dub of a Star Wars movie?

Anton Treuer: Honestly, I had a great time with my parts in the project. A lot of credit goes to Pat Ningewance, who worked on the script adaptation. But it was fun being in the studio, there probably a dozen good Ojibwe speakers in there while we were recording. The parts, of course, are fun in and of themselves. The work’s kind of technical, too, we have to adapt an Indigenous language into a cadence and timeframe from English, but it was it was really a good time.

Thomas, I heard you actually went to the premiere just this past weekend, how did it feel to just be there and to hear your voice?

Thomas Draskovic: Oh, it was great. Because they did three different opening nights back on the reservation and Standing Rock and it was my first time actually seeing the movie and hearing the finished product. And it was great, it was amazing to see that was such a great turnout. So I’m very proud of the work that we did.

Anton, were there any of words that were particularly tricky to translate?

Treuer: It was a fun and creative process. I think ultimately, for any language to live, it has to live for all things, not just for ceremonies. And so doing movie dubs and doing new creative work in Indigenous languages is so important.

It of course, requires lexical expansion. The English language had to expand, we have words today, like, you know, motherboard and firewall that might have terrified somebody a few generations before. Languages have to grow and shift into these things. So of course, we had to develop terminology for lightsabers and “the force” and all kinds of things like that.

What about some of the difficult words for you Thomas?

Draskovic: Well, yeah, like Anton said, my mother and her friend, Ruby, were tasked with translating the script and they realized that the way we speak is way too long, much longer than English, because it’s a descriptive language. And so we did that where my mom and her friends said, you know what, let’s not try to do it word for word, let’s do it the way that we would actually talk to each other.

So they had to shorten the speech up with a more conversational approach, and so they could shorten up the sentences. And as we were recording, we had to also edit on the fly. If things weren’t fitting, we had to go through them again and think what are the different ways we could say the same thing and find what fit.

How meaningful was that to collaborate with your mom on this?

Draskovic: It was amazing. It’s her first language, she’s a first language speaker and with her, she always reminded me: “Remember when you say your lines when you speak, go fast,” because we’re from Rock Creek and in our community, we speak very fast. “So if you’re gonna represent the way that we speak at home, you need to speed up because you speaking way too slow.”

Anton, what was the most exciting part of this experience for you?

Treuer: I have often run point on major language development projects. It was fun for me to play more of a supporting role in this particular project. And I really feel like we are at an another inflection point in the revitalization efforts around our language. I have a lot of hope, with where we’re at right now.

In Canada we’re starting to see funding there for Indigenous language projects. There’s a major treaty settlement for the Huron-Robinson treaties, it was $10 billion with a “b,” and the First Nations are talking about tithing 10 percent of the money for language work, that would be $1 billion.

I imagine this is the first of many projects around language revitalization and it gives me a lot of hope to see not just some of our really great hardworking elders and academics, but a lot of young people leaning into all of the work.

Thomas, how does this dub help Lakota language learners?

Draskovic: Well, I think it’s great because it’s a modern representation of our language, it’s not something that is like set in the 1800s. And I thought that was very important to see that we’re current and future changemakers with our language and our cultural revitalization.

One of the great things about this recording this stuff was that it was done on the Standing Rock Reservation, it wasn’t done in Hollywood or anywhere else. It’s actually at Grey Willow Studios that has a state of the art recording studio set up so that we can do this with our own people, with our own sound engineers, and of course, our own speakers. So that’s very important.

How did you see younger people or even kids responding? Like what would something like this have meant to you around that age?

Draskovic: Oh, this would have been great. Because like I said, you’re watching something that’s happening that the kids are actually into currently in their lives, and they can see themselves up there. And they can say, “Hey, that sounds just like my uncle. That sounds like my grandpa that sounds like my mom.”

I think that connection that they can make to that is really helpful for them to kind of step into that language. There were some young people that did have roles in it and they were celebrated. I think that hearing themselves up there, you could see this really, really bright look on their faces and a lot of proud thoughts, a lot of proud faces in the crowd.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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