Jesse Bowman Bruchac is one of the last fluent speakers of Western Abenaki and works vigorously to revitalize the language and many other related Eastern Algonquian languages, a family of languages that include dialects once spoken by Pocahontas and Squanto. His efforts have led to his creation of a free website WesternAbenaki.com, which includes a podcast, videos, a keyword searchable dictionary, and language lessons. He has also hosted and facilitated free immersion camps at his family run non-profit Ndakinna Education Center for over two decades, and now has a popular Western Abenaki YouTube Channel, and helps run a very active Facebook Group with nearly 1,000 people actively learning the language online together. He has also written and published bilingual books, several recordings, and reprinted essential historic works in the Abenaki language.
He has lectured and taught at major universities including Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton, and visited hundreds of primary schools and tribal communities.
Above: Jesse, linguist Conor Quinn, Abenaki, Penobscot, Maleseet, Passamaquoddy, and Micmac speakers at a Wabanaki language gathering on Indian Island Maine.
He acted as a consultant and translator for the AMC show TURN, and When All the Leaves Are Gone a film by Alanis Obomsawin, and as translator, dialect/dialogue coach, and composer for the National Geographic movie Saints & Strangers, and for two seasons of the NBC/Universal miniseries Jamestown.
Jesse coaching Raoul Trujillo in South Africa on the set of Nat Geo’s Saints and Strangers.
As a musician, he has performed at major festivals around the world. Opening for such notable acts as The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, and Woodstock ’94. He worked as composer and performer for the operetta The Purchase of Manhattan. He has also composed music for several motion picture sound tracks.
Jesse’s great grandparents, Marion and his namesake Jesse Bowman in the Greenfield Center, NY home where he was raised.
Many Abenaki words were used within the household as Jesse was raised, as his father Joseph Bruchac was himself learning the language. In addition to this use of the language within his childhood home, hearing the language spoken fluently by the Abenaki elders his father would visit was a huge inspiration. Jesse was drawn to the language’s unique structure and musicality immediately. Early use and exposure to Abenaki led him to begin studying the language in earnest at the age of 20 from Cecile Wawanolette in 1992. He studied with her, and dozens of other speakers at the Abenaki reservation of Odanak, Quebec for over a decade. He has continued to learn and teach the language with Cecile’s son Joseph Elie Joubert.
Jesse and Elie during one of their weekly study sessions.