"The Whalebone Parrot" by Darcie Little Badger is a short story freely available online about a family living on a small island with a cat and a parrot. An important theme is that both sisters are "Indian" (Native American) and can speak at least some phrases of a Native language, although they rarely do so as their culture has seemingly been suppressed at least since their childhood.

What language is this? It's never stated openly in the story: they are referred to as "Indians" but no specific tribe is mentioned. Searching the internet for some of the phrases used just led me back to this story as the only search result. But perhaps someone more versed than I in Native American history and culture would be able to recognise the language from the words or contextual clues.


1 Answer 1



The answer lies in the author's activity on Twitter. After releasing this story, she went on to talk about the history of the Lipan Apache people, against whom the military of the United States and Mexico waged a genocidal war of extermination in the late 19th century. In the words of Darcie Little Badger:

In the late 1800s to early 1900s, cultural assimilation became a tool of survival. Blend in or die. [1]

Parents were afraid to pass on Lipan spirituality, language, and daily culture. Generation by generation, knowledge slipped away. [2]

My great-great-grandmother Lorenza spoke Lipan fluently. My great-grandmother Agapita is the last in my line to know our language. [3]

Agapita loved her culture. She taught her kids sacred knowledge. But language vanishes when it's not practiced. [4]

I tried to learn Lipan, but so little remains. Haunted by the ghosts of my dying language, I channeled my anger and sorrow into a story. [5]

The protagonist is an orphan of the Lipan extermination. As she lives among colonists, she struggles to remember her past. Her people. [6]

The Whalebone Parrot is a Victorian ghost story that's rooted in Lipan history. History that so few remember ... [7]

In short: the author, herself a Lipan Apache by descent, wanted to teach her readers something about the culture that was lost in the Americas after colonisation, and channelled her despair at being unable to find her own ancestors' culture into the story of the Whalebone Parrot.

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