December 30, 2007

Seneca language classes

Cultural pride

Dedicated students study Seneca at Nation’s Language House[W]hat if the word you used to talk to your mother is not the same word she used? Or your grandmother? What kind of disconnect is created when young generations are taught a completely different language than that of their ancestors?

The Seneca Nation Educational Program is trying to bridge this gap by offering open lessons in Seneca every Tuesday and Thursday evening.

“Our doors are open to anyone,” said instructor Marilyn Schindler. “We’re trying to encourage as many Senecas to come down as we can. We try to work around their schedules. Some people have to work all day and can only make it in the evening.”

Along with Schindler, Jessica Huff and others of the Language House teach anywhere from three to eight people each week, free of charge.

December 28, 2007

Aleutian schools may teach Unangam Tunuu

School board faces Native language issueNext year may see the return of instruction in Unangam Tunuu-–the Native language spoken by the indigenous people of the Aleutian Islands–-in the Unalaska City School District.

That's the hope of Katherine McGlashan, an Unangan/Aleut herself, and an active group of Unalaska residents, including educators, former teachers, parents, the Museum of the Aleutians and Ounalashka Corp., the representative Alaska Native corporation.

"We as indigenous people would like the opportunity to be able to pass on traditions, values and the Unangan culture and language," wrote McGlashan in a September letter to Superintendent John Conwell.

December 26, 2007

Comics are powerful tool

Superman Finds New Fans Among Reading InstructorsIn Maryland, the State Education Department is expanding a new comics-based literacy curriculum, after a small pilot program yielded promising results. In New York City, a group of educators applied to open a new small high school that would be based around a comics theme and named after the creators of Superman; their application was rejected but they plan to try again next year. And the Comic Book Project, a program run out of Teachers College at Columbia University that has children create their own comic strips as an “alternative pathway to literacy,” is catching on. Six years after it started in one Queens elementary school, it has expanded to 860 schools across the country.

“It’s very much a teacher-led kind of movement in that teachers are looking for ways to engage their children, and they’re finding some of that in comic books,” said Michael Bitz, who founded the Comic Book Project as a graduate student and is now its director. “For kids who may be struggling and for kids who may be new to the English language, that visual sequence is a very powerful tool.”

The recent interest in comics as a literacy tool comes as graphic novels have cemented their status as sophisticated works of literature, and as teachers nationwide are struggling to boost reading scores. Proponents of comics in the classroom say that they can lure struggling readers who may be intimidated by pages crammed with text. They also say that comics, with their visual cues and panel-by-panel sequencing, are uniquely situated to reinforce key elements of literacy, like story structure and tone.

December 23, 2007

Notes on California languages

Long gone Native languages emerge from the grave

Millions of cryptic notes from linguist John Peabody HarringtonBringing voices from the grave, volunteers at the University of California-Davis are working to decipher nearly a million pages of notes from conversations with long-gone Native Californians, reviving more than 100 languages from the distant past.

Word by word, they type the scribbled and cryptic notes left by John Peabody Harrington, an eccentric and tireless linguist who in the early 1900s traveled throughout California interviewing the last surviving speakers of many native tongues, including the local Muwekma Ohlone tribe.

Their effort to organize a database of Harrington's vast material will build a Rosetta Stone for these languages and their dialects, creating dictionaries of words, phrases and tribal tales and customs that were destined to disappear.

December 21, 2007

Cherokee classes online

Cherokee Nation to offer online language classhe Cherokee Nation will be offering a Cherokee language course online through the tribe’s web site beginning Jan. 7.

The Cherokee Nation began offering language classes online in 2003. Since then, approximately 1,000 students register each session. Students from all over the world, including France, Australia, Spain, Mexico, Germany and Canada have taken part in the courses.

To make the classes more interactive and easier to access, the Cherokee Nation will use updated software, which will allow for more students to participate, easier login capabilities, full-screen options, archiving abilities and a new cross platform interface for PCs, as well as Mac users.

December 20, 2007

Hopi scholar dies

Time catches up with Hopi-language saviorEmory Sekaquaptewa was at once a visionary and a realist—a combination few are blessed with, but a paradoxical trait that produced a lasting legacy.

Not everyone can look back and say they wrote their nation's first dictionary and helped revive a language that faced extinction, but those are just a few of the things he accomplished in his lifetime.
His greatest achievement:One of Sekaquaptewa's largest accomplishments was a 30-year project that resulted in the Hopi language's first dictionary. The underlying drive behind all of his endeavors—his law degree, his 34 years of university teaching—was to preserve the Hopi way of life.

"He was always putting down words on little cards and after a while he decided it would be a good idea to put those together into a dictionary," Krutz said.
His work to continue:Healy is in charge of fundraising for Sekaquaptewa's last project, a children's book that will teach the Hopi language to the next generation.

The Hopi Children Workbook is designed to teach visual word association, much like the popular Richard Scarry books, only with a Hopi twist.
Comment:  If the Hopi are doing a children's book with pictures, why not a comic book?

December 08, 2007

"Teaching Our Way" with pictures

Faint hope for dying languageThe lesson is an attempt to stop the slow but steady demise of Seminole language and culture by "Teaching Our Way."

That's the English translation for Pemayetv Emahakv, the name of the charter school that opened in August on the Brighton Seminole Reservation just northwest of Lake Okeechobee in Glades County.

In its first year, the $10 million, 45,000-square-foot school has become a source of pride among the 600 people living on the reservation. There is a waiting list to enroll, and parents and staff are talking about expanding the school beyond its kindergarten through fifth grades.
How the language program works:The school uses a system for learning native languages called accelerated second language acquisition. University of Montana Professor S. Neyooxet Greymorning, an Arapaho Indian, developed the system.

The method entails pictures instead of written words and learning the language orally before writing it down.

The language classroom at Pemayetv Emahakv, pronounced pee-ma-YEH-da eh-ma-HA-ga, is plastered with photos and cartoons of people sitting, standing, laughing, walking and talking. The images are used for teaching verbs.

November 30, 2007

English only vs. Native languages

Two languages

Diné schools look to modify Arizona's English teaching programFor years it seemed that Arizona's English Only law lived in quiet conflict with the federal Native American Languages Act, with neither technically addressing the existence of the other.

Nonetheless, the state's 1988 amendment to its constitution, which requires government offices and schools to conduct business only in English, was a direct contradiction to the 1990 federal law that encourages and supports the use of Native languages in tribal governments and schools.

While the detente is unlikely to change, new state requirements implementing English-immersion policies in the classroom could come uncomfortably close to bringing the conflict to a head.
How a program for immigrant children fails Native students:Jackson believes the state's English language learners model should be amended to include an alternative plan for Native American students.

These students, he said, are not English language learners. Rather, they are dual language learners--striving to master English and their own language.

According to the state's model, ELL students should be clustered together in a single classroom for four hours a day in which only English would be spoken. It does not address the goals of the federal law aimed at preserving Native languages.
Comment:  This article explains why an "English only" policy is racist: because it discriminates on the basis of race. Hispanics and Native Americans are forced to conform to the white model whether it helps them or not.

Ironically, the new Pew study makes it clear that immigrants want to learn English quickly. The claim that English is under siege and needs protection is a flat-out joke.

November 29, 2007

Speaking in circles

Engaged in culture:  Native youth answer a call

Through the help of community and classes, some young adults embrace a once endangered heritageToday, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian and other Native people are dancing, weaving, carving, canoeing, preparing Native foods and speaking Native languages. They are getting together in beading and drumming circles and meeting to chat in their Native tongue. They are gathering foods from the land and taking long walks with elders.

Tlingit immersion teacher Kitty Eddy helped start the first immersion class in 2000, through the Juneau School District. Still in operation, the class offers academics, language and culture within a Tlingit cultural context. When other kids are carving pumpkins, her students are designing totems or building traditional longhouses.

November 28, 2007

Phraselator revitalizes Oneida

Military device holds key to saving Oneida language Some of the 2,000-strong community's eldest--only 90 still speak fluent Oneida--spent yesterday recording phrases in their native language onto machines called Phraselators.

"This is going to revitalize our language before it dies," said Mary Elijah, director of Oneida Language and Cultural Centre, gesturing to one of eight hand-held devices recently bought by the settlement. "This (Phraselator) is going to outlive everybody."

And not a moment too soon, she said, adding the youngest Oneida speaker is 50 years old, and most are over 70.

November 26, 2007

The last Wichita speaker

Tribal language fading away

Doris Jean Lamar is the last fluent speaker of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes.Oklahoma had been a state for only two decades when Doris Jean Lamar was born in 1927. Her first spoken words were not English, but an American Indian language taught to her by grandparents.

Today, Lamar is the last fluent speaker in the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, a tribe of 2,300. Sitting in a tribal canteen that she supervises, the 80-year-old Lamar carries a language that once was spoken by thousands, then hundreds of Wichita language speakers.

"I never thought I would be in this position as a girl, to be our last fluent speaker," she said.

November 12, 2007

Pechanga Phraselators

In an impressive move to bolster a Native language, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians has given every member a Phraselator. This handheld gizmo can translate hundreds of words and phrases from English to Luiseño. A voice speaks the translation aloud, giving it the proper intonation.

Think about the cost of this move. Say the Pechanga band has 1,200 members and the Phraselator costs $2,000. That's $2.4 million spent on this project. Has there ever been a bigger one-time expense to preserve a Native language? If so, I don't know about it.

Also interesting is that Chairman Mark Macarro of the Pechangas has recorded the Luiseño translations. Apparently he's one of the most fluent speakers of the language--and he's a busy politician, not a retired elder. Some of the disenrolled Pechangas have criticized Macarro for not being an authentic Indian, but how many tribal leaders are this committed to keeping their language alive?

November 01, 2007

Gaming buys $10 million school

Seminole school mixes technology, tradition

As the Seminole Tribe parlays its gambling wealth into investment in the next generation, a new elementary school blends technological savvy with traditional ways."Educating our people is very important to us, but equally important is keeping our language and culture," said Louise Gopher, educational director of the tribe and driving force behind the school. 'They're not getting it at home, and they certainly weren't getting it at school. We're teaching the parents, too. When the kids bring home worksheets, a lot of the grandmas are getting calls at night, `How do you spell that? How do I say this?' So everyone's learning."

Gopher, who in 1970 became the first Seminole woman to graduate from college with a four-year degree, says keeping the Creek language alive is essential to tribal survival. "Without the language, we have no tribe," she said.

October 23, 2007

Convention news in Alaskan languages

Recaps of Native convention to be broadcast in indigenous languagesThe Anchorage-based radio station KNBA is planning to give recaps of the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in 3 of Alaska's indigenous languages.

The five-minute segments will be given in Inupiaq, Yupik and Koyukon Athabascan by longtime speakers of the language.

October 21, 2007

Documentary on The Linguists

Garrison filmmakers focus on dying languagesThree young filmmakers, including one from Cold Spring and another from Yorktown, have just completed a documentary on the world's "dying" languages. Nearly 3,500 of the world's 7,000 spoken tongues are rapidly disappearing.

Intrigued by learning that some world languages are threatened with never being heard again, the three accompanied two academic linguists around the world as they investigated languages on the verge of extinction.

They traveled to rugged terrain in Siberia, India and Bolivia to find answers and consider what forces--racism, local violence, economic upheaval--were root causes. They also went to the Southwestern United States, where at least 200 languages spoken by American Indians living on reservations are endangered.

"We really felt like the Indiana Joneses of linguistic study and moviemaking combined," said Jeremy Newberger, 33, of Yorktown, Ironbound Films' chief executive officer.

October 20, 2007

New Testament in Naskapi

Preston couple translates Bible for Canadian Indian tribeFor the next 15 years, the Jancewiczs and their children, which expanded to three, lived and worked with the tribe. They had come to translate the New Testament of the Bible into the tribe’s native Naskapi, a language in the Algonquin family, but also worked on translation dictionaries as well as school curriculum.

The New Testament was published this fall and every household on the reservation—about 300—has a copy. Although the family now lives in Preston, they traveled back for the unveiling and Bill said it was an almost indescribable feeling to hold the work in his hands.

“That’s a very awesome thing. You can’t describe it. It brings tears to your eyes,” he said. “It’s like holding a new baby.”

October 19, 2007

Siva the Serrano savior

He's a keeper of the Serrano language"It would be a shame for it to get lost and I think that's why the other communities are trying to do the same thing," said Siva, founder of the Dorothy Ramon Learning Center.

The nonprofit organization was established four years ago and in June Siva acquired a building for it in downtown Banning. The building will help Siva further his cause and bring Southern California's American Indian history and culture to life.

The learning center's mission is "to save and share the culture and history of American Indians in Southern California," he said.

Siva offers Serrano language and music lessons. The language is called Marringa, from which the name Morongo comes, he said.

October 17, 2007

Phonetics chart and language lessons

New system helps students learn the Lakota languageEarl Bullhead, a Lakota educator on the Lower Brule Reservation in South Dakota, has developed a phonetics chart that is easy to follow and offers proper pronunciation. He also has a step-by-step approach that offers students a chance to learn not just a core word, but when other letters or words are added to make it plural or gender-qualified, or when it takes on a slightly different meaning.

Bullhead has developed a system that includes 10 lessons that show the use of conjugations so that the student will be able to visualize the word. The system includes special modifiers that change the meaning of the word from, for example, first person to second or third person.

He sets up the courses in 15-week increments of 10 lessons each. He has also, with help from technical experts, developed a computer program that allows students to overlay diacritical markings onto letters to change the sound of the letter. The student can also add words and letters to other words to change person, tense or gender.

Lakota stories, songs on CD

Stories and songs in the original Lakota language donated to OLCA dedicated Lakota man, Jim Emery, was concerned about losing the old stories, songs and language to a more modern version. He set out to record as many of the stories and songs as possible.

His family, members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, transferred his original recordings to compact discs and donated the collection to Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation for preservation and research.

The CDs contain stories and conversations with such notables as Black Elk, Dewey Beard, Paul Apple, Ellis Chips, Charlie Red Cloud, Jessie and Wallace Little Finger and Frank Fools Crow, according to a release.

Edmo stumps for Shoshone

Poet works to preserve native tongueAs part of American Indian Heritage month, Ronald Snake Edmo, a linguistic anthropologist who is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, will speak about his poetry and the importance of language to a culture’s life.

The Shoshone language runs the risk of being lost as increasingly fewer members of succeeding generations learn to speak it. Edmo, who grew up in a time when children were beaten for speaking Shoshone in school, writes poetry in Shoshone and English.

October 16, 2007

Trying to save Mono

Learning an almost lost language

The few Mono Indians remaining who speak their tongue are passing it down to children to preserve culture.The North Fork Rancheria Tribal Council does not have the funds for a formal program to preserve the Mono language, said council Chairwoman Jacquie Davis-Van Huss. The 1,652-member tribe relies on volunteers like Burrough and the support of educators who incorporate Mono lessons into programs in public schools.

Burrough teaches children as part of its Indian Education Program in North Fork Elementary School. Such programs also provide for classroom tutoring in subjects other than language and culture for Native American kids, Principal Stuart Pincus said.

October 13, 2007

Sitimaxa edition of software

Chitimacha Tribe to Develop Rosetta Stone SoftwareRosetta Stone Inc., creator of the world's No. 1 language-learning program, has formed a partnership with the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana to develop a unique edition of the award-winning software in the tribe's language, Sitimaxa.

The tribe will own distribution and sales rights to the tribal language version created through the Rosetta Stone Endangered Language Program, which has developed culturally-relevant language-learning software with the Mohawk of Kahnawake, NANA Regional Corporation of Alaska, and other indigenous communities.

October 09, 2007

70 tribes use Phraselator

The Phraselator II

How a high-tech military device is helping to preserve the tribal languages of American Indians.Throughout Indian Country, hundreds of younger tribal citizens like Brockie are diligently working with their elders to preserve and teach the unique and complex linguistic traditions of their tribes. There are currently more than 70 tribes using the Phraselator as a language preservation tool.

Indian linguists say the gadget has gained popularity at a critical time, since most tribes have very few living members who know their native tongue. It is increasingly rare to find young Indians who communicate with their elders in the tribal language.
Why tribes like it:The Phraselator itself looks like a cross between a BlackBerry and a walkie-talkie. It can record and translate both audio and video files, and it stores language via a flash memory card. A one-gigabyte card will hold up to 85,000 phrases or words, which can then be transferred to other computers.

“There’s a huge trend in Indian Country to revive the languages,” Thornton says. “I think the feature of the Phraselator that really attracts tribes is that they can do it all themselves—and they retain all copyright of their materials. They don’t have to depend on outsiders.”

October 02, 2007

Saving O'odham with multimedia

Tech linguists work to save languageNathan Jahnke, a graduate linguistics student from Houston who is participating in the language-revitalization project, said the group is working on digitizing the largest Tohono O'odham dictionary.

"Obviously, if you want to learn a language, you'll need to look up words in the dictionary," he said, "and right now the best one isn't digital and is out of print, so that puts a serious limit on how easily people can learn the language."

Along with the digitizing the dictionary, Jahnke said the group also is creating multimedia teaching materials, including PowerPoint presentations.

"We tried to imagine what kind of materials kids today would get into," he said, "and we decided that multimedia stuff is crucial, and there is virtually none of that in O'odham right now."

Fitzgerald said ensuring the translation of the language into other texts is important, but creating audio recordings of O'odham speakers also is an objective of language revitalization.

"If you have something written down on a page, you can't hear intonations, which changes a sentence from a statement versus a question," she said. "Trying to capture the details of that kind of pitch and intonation, that's very expressive and meaningful, you can't do that without audio."

October 01, 2007

Last Elem Pomo speaker

Only living Elem Pomo speaker teaches so she won't be the lastKelsey, 59, is the last person on Earth who is fluent in Elem Pomo, an 8,000-year-old dialect spoken by a people who once flourished along the shores of Clear Lake (Lake County). Handed down orally and never written, the language has nearly vanished--and Kelsey, a quiet, almost demure woman with steely gaze, is doing everything she can to make sure the ancient words do not die with her.

Every time an Elem Pomo phrase passes her lips and someone else hears it, she says, she is helping keep it alive. It's even better if one of the young people in her tribe speaks that phrase back to her--and over the past three years, she has been holding workshops to make sure they are able to do that.

September 26, 2007

How to learn Indian culture

Learning culture takes time, devotionOne of the most important lessons I learned, although I didn't know it at the time, is how critical it is to live in an Indian community or have close ties to it. Even though there was no set lesson plan, and I wasn't told this is a cultural lesson, I absorbed Indian culture because it was what was happening every day.

When I started school, I came home and asked my grandmother, who lived with us, if the Sahnish (Arikara) word for bear that I used was English or Arikara. I didn't know because English and Sahnish were used interchangeably at home. I absorbed those words like I absorbed the ceremonies. They were part of what we did each day, like the family who says a Catholic blessing before eating.

It was also hard as a child to understand why my classmates didn't do the same things we did. I learned that Indian culture, language and ceremonies were far too difficult to explain, so I kept quiet and became one of the quietest elementary school students at Sunnyside in Minot.

I learned how important the language is for this reason, too. It is the culture. I learned that words paint pictures of who we are, so to understand a culture, you must understand its language. This is true not just for Indian languages and culture, but all languages and all cultures.

September 25, 2007

Alaska Native wins genius grant

Alutiiq anthropologist honored as a MacArthur 'genius'

Award comes with $500,000 for HaakansonAn Alaska Native anthropologist from the Kodiak Island village of Old Harbor has received one of the most prestigious--and lucrative--awards for intellectual achievement in America. Sven Haakanson, 41, is among 24 new MacArthur Fellows announced Monday.

A press release from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Fellows Program called Haakanson "the driving force behind the revitalization of indigenous language, culture and customs in an isolated region of North America." It also mentioned his artistic accomplishments as a mask carver and photographer.

September 21, 2007

Trying to save Washo

A final say?  They hope notLast year, Yu received a $160,000 federal grant to compile an online dictionary of 5,000 Washo words and phrases, complete with digitally recorded pronunciations by Dick and other Washo elders. Scheduled to be finished in 2009, the dictionary is designed partly as a tool to help younger Washos learn the language--even if just a few words, such as da'aw (Lake Tahoe), gewe (coyote) and gu'u (maternal grandmother).

"It's going to be lost, I think, if nobody tries to teach them," Dick said of Washo, which had no written form until 20th century scholars began transcribing it phonetically. "If the young people could learn, maybe they can tell their children down the line a bit that it's important to our tribe. Because we are not a very big tribe."

September 18, 2007

Every two weeks a language dies

Researchers Say Many Languages Are DyingWhile there are an estimated 7,000 languages spoken around the world today, one of them dies out about every two weeks, according to linguistic experts struggling to save at least some of them.

Five hotspots where languages are most endangered were listed Tuesday in a briefing by the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages and the National Geographic Society.

In addition to northern Australia, eastern Siberia and Oklahoma and the U.S. Southwest, many native languages are endangered in South America—Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia—as well as the area including British Columbia, and the states of Washington and Oregon.

Losing languages means losing knowledge, says K. David Harrison, an assistant professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College.

"When we lose a language, we lose centuries of human thinking about time, seasons, sea creatures, reindeer, edible flowers, mathematics, landscapes, myths, music, the unknown and the everyday."
More on the story:

Vanishing Languages Identified
Oklahoma Is Among Places Where Tongues Are Disappearing

Languages Die, but Not Their Last Words

The languages of extinction:  The world's endangered tongues
Every fortnight, another language dies; some 40 per cent of the world's languages are thought to be at risk. Now a new study has identified those that are most endangered.

September 12, 2007

Chicago schools recognize Native languages

From a press release:

Chicago Public Schools Effort to Ensure Survival of Native American LanguagesChicago Public Schools announced that the newly launched student information management program, IMPACT, includes a list of Native American languages that will help educational leaders identify the languages used within the district.

Students and their families will be able to identify which languages are spoken in their homes. The Native American languages included are primarily from the Great Lakes Tribes, a prominent segment of the Chicago Public Schools Native American student population.

These efforts are in line with H.R. 4766 [109th]: Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act which became public law December 14, 2006. H.R. 4766 amends the Native American Programs Act of 1974 to provide for the revitalization of Native American languages through Native American language immersion programs and other projects.

“As the third largest school district in the country, we hope to inspire other districts to take this critical step in identifying the use of Native American languages at home. The data we gather can only help us build a stronger understanding of our student body as well as assist us with language programming,” Jolene Aleck, Coordinator of CPS Title VII Indian Education Formula Grant Program.

September 05, 2007

ILI's language learning technology

Language revitalization's 'race against time' goes high-tech"[W]e decided there was something ILI can do that other organizations or institutes are not addressing, which was to help bring the technology into the hands of people who are actually doing the language work, for two reasons: One is they have the Native speakers at their disposal in the communities, and, two, many of the successful materials are developed based on imagery and ideas and content that is culturally based and culturally appropriate," Slaughter said.

ILI's technology includes specially designed Native-language keyboards and supporting software that can be used easily with common programs such as Microsoft Word and Publisher, scanning and sound technology to produce illustrated storybooks, animation, slide shows and videos with music.

The keyboards can be customized for any number of languages--and there are dozens, if not hundreds of languages--and even accommodate diacritical marks if a tribe has chosen to use them in the written version of its Native tongue.

The institute takes its technology and technicians on the road and holds three-day intensive workshops around the country to accommodate as many people as possible. Participants take the software home to be used for further language learning and teaching.

August 30, 2007

Nature walks promote Lushootseed

Tribal children meet their history

Stillaguamish youth explore a forest's bountyJohn Yeager is just 9 years old, but he can recite the names of a host of forest animals in Lushootseed, the ancient language of his Stillaguamish tribal ancestors.

"It helps to learn about our culture, and how we lived," Yeager said as he walked Tuesday along a road nestled deep in the forest near Arlington. "I want to learn as much Lushootseed as I can so I can pass it along to other people."

August 29, 2007

Lakota radio encourages language

Radio Station Provides Vital Link for People on Indian ReservationPart of each day's broadcast is done in the Lakota language, which is still widely spoken by older people and is being taught to school children. The language was in danger of dying because of government efforts to force American Indians to speak English in decades past.

Tom Casey says using Lakota on the station sends a powerful cultural message. "When the radio station first went on the air, February 25th, 1983, the first DJ [disc jockey] on the air spoke in both Lakota and English and that was really powerful."

August 28, 2007

Dena'ina website goes live

Web helping tribe to save language

Site aims to keep Dena'ina culture from extinctionFor more than two years, Boraas and his colleague Michael Christian have taken pictures, navigated through HTML and digitized old audio recordings of Native writer Peter Kalifornsky in order to present Dena'ina vocabulary, grammar, stories and place names in an interactive Web site that went live last month.

This project is the latest in the Kenaitze Indian Tribe's endeavor to revitalize their Native language. Cultural Director Alexandra "Sasha" Lindgren, a tribal elder with the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, said a three-year grant from the Administration for Native Americans allowed the tribe to buy Boraas out of his teaching contract with KPC, enabling him to devote more time to the Web site.

August 19, 2007

Chukchansis use Phraselator

Speak now...or forever hold your peace

Rare Chukchansi speakers gather to record and preserve their languageA few Native Americans who still speak the ancient Chukchansi language are preserving tribal words and songs with state-of-the-art electronic translators inspired by military technology.

Jane Wyatt, 62, of Coarsegold, and her sister, Holly, 65, were among six tribal members who gathered Friday across the street from the Picayune Rancheria's busy Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in Coarsegold to try out a newly acquired "Phraselator."

August 14, 2007

Chilean teen learns dead tongue

Young Chilean keeps nearly extinct languages aliveYanten is speaking Selk'nam, the language of an extinct aboriginal group that lived in the Tierra del Fuego islands off southern Chile and Argentina. They were among the last native communities in South America to be settled, in the late 19th century.

When the Spaniards arrived in Chile, 11 languages were in widespread use: Quechua, Aymara, Rapanui, Chango, Kunza, Diaguita, Mapudungun, Chono, Kawesqar, Yagan and Selk'nam. Today, only the first three remain.

Experts now consider Yanten to be the only living speaker of a language that died with the last ethnic Selk'nam in the 1970s.

His obsession began at age 8, when he wrote an elementary school project on Chile's native groups. "It frustrated me that no one really saw the magnitude of the extinction of an entire race in the south," he said. "Now you'll only find a couple of indigenous faces; it's really sad."

But learning a language when there is no one to speak it with is no small task. Yanten used dictionaries and audiocassettes of interviews and shamanic chants, recorded by Jesuit missionaries.

August 09, 2007

Campaigning to save Maliseet

N.B. woman recording elders speaking Maliseet for posterityA New Brunswick woman has launched an online campaign to save a dying native language.

Imelda Perley says her new project hopes to capture the voices of about 100 people in New Brunswick, most of them elders, who speak Maliseet as their first language.

August 07, 2007

High school adds Onondaga class

LaFayette to teach Onondaga languageStarting in September, LaFayette schools will for the first time teach the Onondaga's native language--Ongwehonwekha--in ninth grade, a critical step in the Onondaga Nation's effort to save its native language from extinction.

LaFayette High School will be one of a handful of high schools in the state to offer a Native American language class.

"This is a giant step forward for the kids who can continue learning the language, which helps keep it alive," said Danielle Rourke, LaFayette High School's Native American liaison who works with Onondaga Nation School eighth-graders transitioning to the high school. "You teach it to them when they're young and keep working on it because the more you use it, the more it's going to stay around."

Proud students of Keresan

Acoma kids show off language skillsThe eight students, along with help from their instructors, showed off their acting talents too as they performed a skit based on the Acoma Emergence Story.

William Estevan, one of the instructors of the project, talked about the unique program that has tribes from all across the country seeking Acoma's help in reestablishing their own efforts to save their languages.

“The students studied oral language which included the Acoma emergence story, how the people came to their present state. Every day, excluding feast days, the students were involved with the Acoma Keres language and the oral story telling of the history of Acoma,” Estevan said.

August 06, 2007

Only rancher can save Mandan

Rancher, linguist working to preserve native languageAn effort to save the Mandan language may rest on the shoulders of a 75-year-old horse rancher.

Experts believe Edwin Benson is the only person living who speaks fluent Mandan, the language of the American Indian tribe that became the host of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during the explorers' winter encampment in North Dakota more than 200 years ago.

For past three summers, in six-hour shifts, Benson and California linguist Sara Trechter have camped out in a small office so he can speak into a microphone while Trechter takes notes. The two recently finished transcribing seven Mandan folk stories.

August 02, 2007

Investing in Ojibwe teachers

College receives grant for Ojibwe language and culture programThe College of St. Scholastica in Duluth has recently received a new five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support its Ojibwe Language and Culture Education (OLCE) program.

In announcing the grant earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar called the program a “good investment,” saying that it helps ensure “that our teachers are ready for the challenges in today’s classrooms.”

The $1.19 million grant is administered by the Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition. It will support 10 students who are interested in teaching and working in the American Indian community. Students will major in elementary or secondary education and in Ojibwe language and culture education. The dual-major program takes five years to complete. The grant will provide students with tuition support as well as a monthly living stipend.

August 01, 2007

Ojibwe language camp

Language camp keeps Ojibwe culture aliveCamp coordinator Andy Gokee, a former Red Cliff resident who now handles outreach for the UWSP Native American Center, explained why both Ojibwe language lessons and traditional hands-on skills are taught at the camp.

It just doesn't work to teach the Ojibwe language in a sterile classroom, he said.

"Language and the culture--you can't separate the two; you need both," Gokee said. "One kind of interprets another; the language gives you insight into how the Indian mind perceives things."

July 31, 2007

Tlingits use technology

Tlingit curriculum employs technology in classroomThe first broad Tlingit language and culture curriculum was co-produced by Sealaska Heritage Institute and the Juneau School District.

"It's designed to put resources in the hands of teachers who aren't necessarily cultural experts or language teachers so they can learn along with their students," said Yarrow Vaara, Tlingit language specialist for the institute.

The curriculum uses technology to help engage the students in learning, Vaara said. Along with binders of text covering the 18 units, audio components and interactive vocabulary games are included.

July 30, 2007

Cocopah bingo

Cocopah language class seeks to keep ancient tongue from dying outThe Cocopah Museum, which develops cultural programming for the tribe, began offering language classes to children nine years ago.

Classes this summer mark the first time the opportunity has been extended to adult tribal members, as well as nonnatives who work for the tribe.

Playing a language-version of bingo during those classes seems to be slowly breathing life into words that could have been silenced forever.

Students use specially-made bingo cards designed with rows of simple, but useful, Cocopah words. Players listen carefully as the teacher calls out word after word, crossing out each lucky word with bright-colored markers. Skits are also used to teach the language.

July 29, 2007

Saving languages in the Mojave

Keeping tribal languages aliveThe Yuman Language Family Summit is an annual gathering that brings representatives together from Colorado River Indian Tribes to discuss ways of preserving their languages. There are discussions on programs that pair Mojave children with tribal teachers and ways to create an environment for language immersion.

“We have to have the language used every day and spoken so people can pick it up,” said Lucille Watahomigie, summit participant and director of education for the Hualapai Tribe. “It doesn't have to be taught. It can be acquired just by being in the environment where the language is used.”

At the University of Arizona, the American Indian Language Development Institute works to train language teachers on how to use immersion and modern technology to encourage younger people to learn their language. This year, the institute hopes to focus on grant-writing for indigenous populations and skills in documenting languages for preservation.

July 17, 2007

New Tlingit curriculum

Tlingit language program provided to schools in SoutheastEvery public school district in Southeast Alaska has been provided with a new tool to teach the Tlingit language at a time when the number of fluent speakers is dwindling.

The first broad-scale Tlingit language and culture curriculum was co-produced by Sealaska Heritage Institute and the Juneau School District.

"It's designed to put resources in the hands of teachers who aren't necessarily cultural experts or language teachers so they can learn along with their students," said Yarrow Vaara, Tlingit language specialist for the institute.

July 14, 2007

Dena'ina Topical Dictionary

New Alaska Native language dictionary has been publishedThe Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has published a new Athabascan dictionary.

The "Dena'ina Topical Dictionary" is an effort to document and preserve Alaska's Native languages. The university said this is the most complete topical dictionary for any of the 20 Alaska Native languages.

July 13, 2007

Grabbing each opportunity

Schools count on a few Native speakers to preserve language

ATHABASCAN:  To teacher Susan Paskvan, Native culture is lost without it.For the last four years, Paskvan has coordinated the Yukon-Koyukuk School District's Native language program. By videoconference from Fairbanks, she helps teach Denaakk'e and Lower Tanana Athabascan to students in the district's nine villages.

Other times, she'll gather up students, parents and elders and go camping near the villages to immerse students in Athabascan language and culture.

"She just tries to grab each opportunity to use the language," said Martha Demoski, a teacher from Nulato who has worked with Paskvan at the camps.

At one summer camp, Paskvan had students put up signs all over with the Denaakk'e words for things and made them repeat the words for whatever they were doing. Students made birch bark baskets, fished and kept journals in English and Denaakk'e.

July 11, 2007

Language is sacred

Learning OjibwayI heard a wise woman talk at a conference. She spoke of being removed from her culture, unplugged from it, disconnected and set aside like an old toaster. But she was always a toaster and the day came when someone plugged her back in and the electricity flowed. She became functional again - and the tool of her reawakening was her language.

She spoke of the struggle to relearn her talk. She spoke of the same embarrassment I felt and the feeling of being an oddity amongst her own. She spoke of the difficulty in getting past the cultural shame and reaching out for her talk with every fiber of her being. And she spoke of the warm wash of the language on the hurts she'd carried all her life, how the soft roll of the talk was like a balm for her spirit. Then she spoke of prayer.

Praying in her language was like having the ear of Creator for the first time. She felt heard and blessed and healed. It wasn't much, she said. Just a few words of gratitude, like prayers should be; but the words went outward from her and became a part of the whole, a portion of the great sacred breath of Creation again. She understood then, she said, that our talk is sacred and to speak it is the way we reconnect to our sacredness.

July 10, 2007

More on the Phraselator

Recording and preserving the Dakota language

A device resembling a small computer, called a phraselator, is being used to record and preserver the Dakota language. The electronic interpreter was first used in combat zones.Dakota language teacher Wayne Wells pulled a chair next to tribal elder Curtis Campbell, who had settled into his favorite living room rocker to begin an unusual recording session. Wells clutched a gray metal box called a "phraselator," an electronic interpreter first introduced in Iraq and Afghanistan for use by U.S. soldiers at military checkpoints and security zones. He handed a microphone to Campbell, and asked him to repeat--in Dakota--decidedly civilian phrases such as "I want some coffee."

Campbell responded, "Pezutasapa mak'u wo." And the words were added to a databank of hundreds of phrases and sentences stored in the device. Word by word, the effort is helping students at Prairie Island Indian Community preserve their fragile native language.

July 08, 2007

The impulse behind English-only

Language restrictions invoke intoleranceHistorically, language restrictions have been used as a tool to abrogate and forcibly assimilate people such as those who spoke French in Louisiana and the many indigenous-speaking people throughout the nation. Imposition of the English language came out of a drive to conquer people, acquire property, promote trade and national growth by establishing a singular voice for a young nation. However, most know the price of such progress was paid in the loss of cultural integrity for America's native people and lingering hostilities.

Hopefully as a nation we are willing to own up to the dark side of our past and approach today and tomorrow with a greater sense of enlightenment. No longer is it necessary to stamp out the sense of individualism that language embodies. Technology and education, coupled with simple acts of human compassion, have and will address the challenges of communication, if embraced.

June 22, 2007

Cree immersion kindergarten

Another Cree kindergarten coming to SaskatoonThe nêhiyawak Cree immersion kindergarten is scheduled to begin this September at St. Frances School.

The goal is to help children pick up a language that some of their family members might already speak and to learn about First Nations culture.

Language retention, First Nations culture and identity are foundations for healthy, happy students, according to Chief Joe Quewezance of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, one the aboriginal groups working on the program.

June 20, 2007

Teaching conversational Ottawa

Woman tries to save Ottawa languageAccording to Minnesota-based Native Languages of the Americas, a nonprofit organization that aims to preserve and promote endangered Native American languages, there are only about a half-million native speakers of American Indian languages in Canada and the U.S.

So DiPiazza gathered about a dozen other Native Americans she knew who range in age from 22 to 78 who wanted to learn--plus a few of their spouses--and now is wrapping up a class teaching conversational Ottawa at Ada Park.

DiPiazza doesn't know the spellings of the words she teaches. She has made a key of hundreds of words, all spelled phonetically.

June 13, 2007

Cyberspace makes languages cool

Internet breathes life into dying languages"The Internet offers endangered languages a chance to have a public voice in a way that would not have been possible before," said Crystal, who has written over 50 books on language including ‘The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language’.

Languages at risk of extinction are appearing on blogs, instant messaging, chat rooms, video site and social networking site, and their presence in the virtual world curries favour with youngsters who speak them.

"It doesn't matter how much activism you engage in on behalf of a language if you don't attract the teenagers, the parents of the next generation of children," Crystal, who was raised speaking English and Welsh, said.

June 08, 2007

The slow-motion massacre

Language summit struggles against 'slow-motion massacre'Richard Littlebear, president of Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, Mont., on the Northern Cheyenne lands, related a personal history with an all-too-familiar ring to it in Indian country--education at a BIA boarding school, training as a high school English teacher, "all angled towards promoting English, and for a long time that's the way it was. I said, 'No, we don't need Indian, Native American languages, we don't need Cheyenne. We don't need another language. All we need to know here is English.'

"Finally about 1980, I started making this, what I would characterize as a slow-motion epiphany, into becoming an advocate, a very strong advocate, of our Native languages. Because all through my educational experience, it seemed to me like somebody had been lying to me about my own language, and about where I came from and what my identity was as a Northern Cheyenne person. ... It seems like I must have learned a new word, because I've been using 'slow motion' a whole bunch here lately. But it seems to me like back in 1492, a slow-motion massacre started. It gained in intensity in the late 1800s in the northern Plains territory, where they were actually killing us. The massacres were happening. Now, it has slowed down a little bit. But the massacres that started in 1492 are still happening today. They are hitting right at the heart of us, of who we are, because they are attacking our languages and our culture. The slow-motion massacre is occurring in curricula, it's occurring in media, it's occurring in the books that we read, it's occurring in the loss of our languages. And if we do not do anything to stop this, then we are accomplices in the slow-motion massacre of our languages, and of our culture. We've got to do something about this."

June 07, 2007

Protecting the Inuktitut language

Nunavut introduces new language bills

Not strong enough, say Inuktitut proponents; small businesses disagreeProposed laws aimed at protecting the Inuit language went through first reading Tuesday in the Nunavut legislature.

But some say the legislation does not go far enough in putting Inuktitut and Innuinaqtun on an equal footing with English and French, while others say it goes too far.
The issue being addressed:"Our problem in the Inuktitut language is that we don't have Inuktitut-speaking judges, we don't have Inuktitut-speaking doctors," Tapardjuk added. "It's eventually going to come around, but we are to make certain there are [pieces] of legislation that [address] that issue."

Both proposed laws are meant to ensure Inuit can see and use their language in all facets of life, from phone bills and bylaw tickets, to workplaces and schools. They were developed following several months of public consultations around the territory.

June 03, 2007

College class in Kumeyaay

Course develops new Kumeyaay speakersFor the next 2½ hours, the ponytailed instructor teaches the 12 students a dying Indian language he is working to revive with help from two East County community colleges.

“Our language is in danger of extinction. We have few speakers,” said Rodriguez, who is paid by Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego but teaches the course at Kumeyaay Community College on the Sycuan reservation in the Dehesa Valley.

May 25, 2007

Digital TV at Ramah

'Hogan Heroes' bring digital accessRamah Navajo's digital signal has a radius of 30 miles.

The premier broadcast featured Navajo language speakers Jeanne Whitehorse, of the New Mexico State Tribal Libraries Program, and Kee Long, from the Office of Navajo Nation Broadcast Services.

"This will give the children an opportunity to listen to their language and watch it being spoken. And, since it's on television the whole family can get involved. It's the best way to preserve the Navajo language," Jeanne Whitehorse said

Tsosie would like to see more programming in the Navajo language for children.

"Why can't PBS's Big Bird learn Navajo?" Tsosie wondered. "We could teach him. Our children are always watching television, if they could watch Big Bird and learn Navajo as they eat their cereal in the morning, they could become fluent in both Navajo and English."

May 11, 2007

Diné Language Arts and Cultural Fair

Diné learning aids student progress, principal saysResearch shows that young children have the ability to learn two or four languages and that doing so will not negatively their progress in math, science, English or other subjects, she said.

She said that as students learn Navajo, some even do better than students who speak only English.

Benally said the academic achievements of her students is the reason her staff disagree with the English-only campaign, which claims that speaking a language other than English prevents a student from excelling academically.

May 08, 2007

Money is the root

Tribal-language teaching strugglesThe Office of Public Instruction doesn't have a budget for language preservation.

"We're doing very little because we don't have any money dedicated to language programs," said Lynn Hinch, the bilingual specialist for the state Office of Public Instruction. "We need a K-12 program. Teachers here talked about teaching three times a week for 15 minutes. You can't teach a language in 15 minutes. Spanish teachers wouldn't put up with that. English teachers wouldn't put up with that. Math teachers wouldn't put up with that."

Tribal languages have "little support at the state level," said Hinch.
Why is that the case?American Indians say they lack state support because they are still fighting historic assimilation practices that stripped indigenous people of their language, said Henrietta Mann, a Montana State University professor emeritus.

"Those that came to live with us were steeped in their own cultural world views and wanted everyone else to be like them, to the way we were educated to the way we're supposed to think," said Mann. "In order to accomplish that, they sought to destroy Native languages.

"You still have this tendency to want to change us, to homogenize us. It hasn't changed," said Mann.

April 21, 2007

Revitalizing Hawaiian, like Cherokee

Hawaiians reintroduce languageHawaiian is taught with a syllabic approach, emphasizing the syllables of the words instead of the individual letters of the alphabet.

“It’s a lot like Cherokee,” said Housman. “We use the same approach in Hawaii. It’s not a true syllabary because there aren’t symbols for each syllable, but we do have clusters of consonants and vowels.”

Housman said the Hawaiian language is taught in the immersion programs, just like other skills pertinent to the culture. First, the kids develop a connection to a concept, and then an understanding of it. Practice is the third level of learning, followed by the creation of something using the newly learned skill, whether it be a craft or a sentence.

Children in the immersion programs are taught so that, to put it in a traditional Hawaiian context, they know the big currents and the little currents.

April 20, 2007

Studi advocates language preservation

Actor:  Preserve Cherokee languagePreserving and updating Cherokee language is key to helping the tribe continue, Studi indicated.

“We live in the 21st century; people who can speak more than one language seem to have a better understanding,” he said, adding that Cherokee language must modernize.

“What do you call a computer? What do you call a mouse? What do you call a modem,” he said. “What about a jet airplane, jet propulsion. We cannot allow dogma to enter into the development of our language.”

Studi said language “allows us to communicate what is important to us.”

April 16, 2007

Oneida online

Talking online dictionary helps keep Oneida language alive

Database designed to help with pronunciationLearning the Oneida word "ahlukh"—roughly translating to "to know a language"—is a daunting task, especially if you don't know what it should sound like.

It's a battle for which language teachers have one more weapon, thanks to a Web site created by University of Wisconsin-Green Bay professor Clifford Abbott with tribal elder Maria Hinton.

They're transforming a printed dictionary into a searchable online database that includes sound samples to help those learning the Oneida language.

April 15, 2007

Language programs lack funds

Native educators struggle to fund language programsThe most proven method of teaching a language is through immersion schools, but the state Legislature recently nixed House Bill 750, which called for the state to provide funding for three existing tribe-based immersion schools, including the Gros Ventre, Salish and Blackfeet programs. The bill never made it out of committee to reach a full vote before the Legislature.

It's been difficult for tribes to start their own immersion schools independent of the state because they can't afford it. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes were able to create an immersion school because the tribe pays for the majority of the private school's operating budget. But other tribes in the state don't have the same economic options to start their own.
But bilingualism works:“I think it's a threat to them,” said Minerva Allen, a tribal elder cultural coordinator for the communities of the Fort Belknap Reservation. “They feel they can't understand us and they want us all to be equal in their sense of equal, not in ours. They want us all to be in this melting pot of all races. They had a hard time getting us to learn English and now we want to turn around and learn our Native language.”

But many people fail to understand that a bilingual speaker more readily absorbs new knowledge and abstract concepts because they can view and participate in life from multiple vantage points, said Richard Little Bear, president of the Dull Knife Community College.
Comment:  This contradicts the notion that we should adopt an English-first or English-only approach. It also contradicts the stereotype that all tribes are rich from casinos. That's far from the case, especially in rural states such as Montana.

April 05, 2007

Wappo saved from wipeout

UCSB Professors Preserve Native American LanguageThe spoken language of the Wappo Native American tribe almost ceased to exist when Laura Somersal, the last remaining fluent speaker, died sixteen years ago. The efforts of UCSB linguistics professors Sandra Thompson and Charles Li have prevented the language from becoming completely extinct. The pair recently published the most extensive data and grammatical research ever conducted on the Wappo language in A Reference Grammar of the Wappo. In the ten years it took to gather information, Li and Thompson traveled to Northern California every six to eight weeks to record Somersal speak and put the language in context.

April 01, 2007

North Carolina language center

Jackson center first in state to teach Cherokee languageTwenty-eight community sponsors, from individuals to big businesses like Lowe’s and Wal-Mart, donated money or in-kind services and materials for the center.

The center costs about $50,000, said organizer Vangie Stephens. Of that amount, $15,000 came from Tribal Council.

The center will serve 12 students a year on a first-come, first-served basis.

Stephens said the classroom is the only one in the state focused solely on teaching an American Indian language.

March 29, 2007

Results with total immersion

A Culture Put to the Test

For Navajo children, a rigorous program draws on tradition to spur achievement.Ask Marilyn Begay why the Navajo-immersion school where she is a 5th grade teacher has fared well in meeting student-achievement goals under the No Child Left Behind Act, and she’ll say it’s because the school integrates Navajo language and culture into its curriculum.

Put the same question to Maggie Benally, the school’s principal, and she’ll credit instruction driven by analysis of students’ test scores. The Navajo Language Immersion School—Tséhootsooí Diné Bi’ólta’, to use its Navajo name—made adequate yearly progress in all subgroups under the federal law last school year, Ms. Benally said, because “the teachers know exactly where their students are in terms of data.”

March 25, 2007

What the Odawa are doing

Tribe works to ensure language's futureIn the last five years the tribe has made the language a priority, Carla McFall, the tribe’s language program coordinator said. McFall met with interested community members and tribal leaders, nearly five years ago to establish a proposal for the new language program. The tribal council approved the program housed in the Archives and Records Department in Harbor Springs.

The proposal included a narrative of the history of the language, the need for fluent speakers and the importance of revitalizing the language. The program was established in 2004.

The tribe’s Archives and Records Department received a $450,000 grant from the Administration for Native Americans in 2006 for language revitalization efforts. The funds were used to hire a curriculum specialist and are being used to develop the high school course and create communitywide Anishinaabemowin programs.

March 17, 2007

Nanticoke haven't given up

Nanticoke try to bring tribe's ancient tongue back to lifeEven though it has been more than 150 years since the last conversation in Nanticoke took place, the tribe refuses to say farewell to the words of its ancestors.

Joining a growing trend of American Indians reviving dormant languages, the Nanticoke recently embarked on a quest to reclaim a nearly lost part of their heritage.

The Millsboro-based tribe has a list of about 300 words and the insights of a native speaker of a similar language. Right now, many of them feel pride when they construct simple sentences.

But the Nanticoke, whose population is 150 to 200 locally with 1,000 active members nationwide, eventually hope to call each brother a nee-e mat and each sister a nimpz.

March 14, 2007

Natives conditioned to reject language

Keeping a language alive:  Co-founder of Blackfoot immersion school in Browning visits UM this weekKipp told of facing the wrath of Blackfeet who told him point-blank that speaking the native language was the devil's work. He was called a mercenary, bent on exploiting the language in order to sell it.

It wasn't, “Hey, you shouldn't do that,” Kipp said.

“It was, ‘What the hell are you doing? Who in the hell do you think you are? What are you trying to be - a big Indian and steal everything?' ”

Perhaps most troubling was the notion that the Cuts Wood School, a K-8 institution at which only the Blackfoot language is spoken, was out to harm the children.

“I think this really reflects the educational standards of Montana, and it's certainly an American philosophy, that the only route to success is an English-speaking trek,” he said. “Anything less, or anything different, is a serious mistake.”

Some saw Cuts Wood School as promoting something bordering on child neglect.

“The fact that you would risk your child's mental stability by proposing to have your child talk in an archaic language is close to pure negligence,” he said, repeating one charge he heard.

But time and research have proved the language immersion school's value.

Three of the school's graduates are now in college. Others have scored well in testing, including four at off-reservation high schools in Cut Bank, Valier and Billings.

A master's study by a University of Montana psychology student in 2003 presented what Kipp called a “very powerful case” that Cuts Wood students actually outperform those with public school backgrounds.

“These children have been schooled in a program that never gave them a formal English language, yet they go into public schools and excel as English-based students,” he said.

March 12, 2007

Lewis and Clark Bicentennial offers grants

Grants aim to help preserve native languagesOnly a handful of people still speak the Mandan language, which was critical to the success of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial is offering grants to fund tribal language educational programs in the community and schools with the hopes of preserving Mandan and other native languages.

Review of Tlingit Macbeth

See the review of the Tlingit Macbeth in my Newspaper Rock blog.

March 09, 2007

Documenting a language isn't enough

Keeping Native tongues out of the pickling jar

After decades devoted to breathing life into dying California languages, linguist Leanne Hinton views her profession's value as far more than academicThe conference gave birth to a group called Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival (AICLS), with Hinton as a founding board member. The nonprofit now runs a number of programs aimed at putting into practice an essential key to language survival, but which Hinton says came as something of a surprise: the need for new speakers of the old languages.

"To a linguist this was a real learning experience, because when linguists say, 'Oh, we've got to save these languages,' they often mean 'let's document them,'" observes Hinton. And while she agrees that documentation is "exceedingly important," it's not enough to save a language. "A lot of people were saying that 'documenting the language is pickling the language—we don't want documentation, we want new speakers, and that's what we want to focus on.'"
And:Such efforts, Hinton believes, are paying off.

"I think what constitutes success is people using the language," she explains. "And what I see is that people are. Any word they know, they're figuring out places where they can use it every day—tribal councils saying, 'Okay, you have to vote yes or no in our language, even if those are the only two words we know.' People are developing their own archives and libraries with copies of all the materials on the language. People are developing curriculum materials, dictionaries, phrase books. And so what's happening is that the languages are coming into use again."

More on the Tlingit Macbeth

Exploring Cultural Ties

Perseverance Theatre's Tlingit version of 'Macbeth' to open in Washington, D.C.The play, at least most of it, was translated into Tlingit, an endangered language that only Tlingit elders speak fluently.

The psychological impact of bringing Tlingit to the stage has been profound, she said.

"To hear young people speaking Tlingit and acting and talking about big ideas and big emotions is something so unique, it was really moving and exciting to hear," Maynard-Losh said.

March 08, 2007

DJ motivates students

Lakota educator brings his traditions to the classroom In January, High Horse implemented a Lakota Culture and Language class for sixth-grade students. Students, both Native and non-Native, signed up on their own initiative to be in it. Initially there was only one class, but so many students signed up that a second class was added.

High Horse was excited to teach this new class and said he feels his students are starting to understand the accurate history of the Lakota people. Seeing that they are eager to learn, because they ask a lot of questions, he tries to encourage them to help each other learn as a group. Together, they learn about the traditional ways of the Lakota people and understand their virtues of bravery, wisdom, generosity, respect, traditional roles, historical timelines and the medicine wheel.

March 06, 2007

Macbeth in Tlingit

How do you say `Out damn spot' in Tlingit?

Theatre company tackles Macbeth in obscure Indian languageJake Waid rubbed his bloodshot eyes, blankly stared at a script for Shakespeare's Macbeth, then resumed an unfamiliar struggle with a set of lines.

"TlDeil tsu tlax yDei l kusheek'Deiyi yDe yageeyi kwasatDinch, ch'a aan yak'Dei," he read slowly of what would normally be, "So foul and fair a day I have not seen."

Waid, a 31-year-old who has been acting since he was 15, faces his most daunting stage assignment to date: performing Shakespeare in Tlingit (pronounced klink-it), an Indian language unique to southeast Alaska and southwest British Columbia, and in which fewer than 300 people are fluent. Its words are difficult to translate into English sounds.

March 03, 2007

Phraselator goes to work

A high-tech translator clarifies a dying tongue

Handheld device lets a Prairie Island elder's voice teach his Sioux dialectCampbell is an elder in the Mdewakanton Sioux tribe that makes up the Prairie Island Indian Community, and he is one of a small number of Minnesotans fluent in a particularly old dialect of Siouan. He is a key part of a tribal project, overseen by Wells, to record the Dakota language so it can be programmed into an instant electronic translator that seems like something out of "Star Trek."

Known as the Phraselator P2, the handheld device already is being used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq to help them communicate with Iraqis. A person can speak into the Phraselator P2—a unit just slightly bigger than a paperback book—and a pre-programmed voice repeats the phrase, translated.

For example, say "What is your name?" into the Phraselator P2 that Wells uses, and it responds with the Dakota equivalent, "He toked eciyapi he?"

February 28, 2007

More on the Ojibwe CD

Award-winning musician gives back through his musicKaren Drift, Bois Forte Head Start teacher and champion of the Ojibwe language, speaks softly, repeating each word several times as a flute sings gracefully in the background. Her granddaughter, Larissa, repeats words to the soft strum of an acoustic guitar. These traditional Ojibwe language lessons accompanied by music can now be heard on Drift's new compact disc, “Anishinabemoin,” was released on Jan. 25 under the new Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Music and Akina Records label.

Award-winning musician Keith Secola, who provides the music on “Anishinabemoin,” was asked by the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Tribal Council to be part of an Ojibwe language CD. He happily agreed and jumped on board as the producer, consultant and solo musician. With his accomplished songwriting, producing and own style of Native contemporary music, Secola was perfect to make the CD complete.

February 26, 2007

Reviving languages can be done

Keweenaw community seeks to save Ojibwe languageMembers say the language is an essential aspect of their culture.

"Language is communication, but also it tells who you are," said Earl Otchingwanigan, professor emeritus of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University in Minnesota. "Within the language itself, there is history and culture built into it."

"Other cultures around the world ... have brought their languages back from the brink of extinction, such as the Maori in the South Seas," he said. "The Jewish people in Israel have brought their language back, so it can be done."

February 23, 2007

Survey says:  develop program

KBIC native language effort continuesSurvey results so far indicate enthusiasm among KBIC members, she said.

“So far the support has been great because people are wanting the program,” she said. Ashbrook said 345 completed surveys are needed, and a series of oral interviews must take place, before the tribe can apply for the second-phase grant from the ANA. The next grant in the ANA’s three-phase grant series would be a one-year grant to fund the tribe’s development of a language instruction program and curriculum individual to the tribe.

February 19, 2007

The importance of Native languages

Native voices going extinctHarrison said that Western biologists are only now beginning to unravel the diversity of plants and species that local inhabitants have long understood and catalogued in their rich vocabulary.

For example, recent research discovered that a butterfly in Costa Rica wasn't one species but 10. Yet the local Tzeltal people had already called the caterpillars by different names, because they attacked different crops.
Some recent successes:[R]ecent success in reviving several aboriginal tongues is rousing hope that the tide of language extinction is not inevitable, delegates at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science heard. Some examples:

  • The language of Miami-Illinois Indians, long classed as extinct, is now spoken daily by at least 50 people after a major "reclamation" effort.

  • Languages on the brink of extinction are being recorded for future revival--such as that of the Chulym, a tribe of hunters and fishers in Siberia.

  • A master-apprentice program is rejuvenating some of the 50 threatened aboriginal languages in California.

  • More than 2,000 schoolchildren are now fluent speakers of Hawaiian, a language banned from schools in Hawaii for almost a century.
  • Natives know their reindeer

    Human knowledge eroded as endangered languages dieA tiny community of reindeer herders in Siberia holds intimate knowledge of the lives, the foraging and the rutting season of their priceless animals, and it's the kind of information that is vital to anyone concerned by the loss of human cultures--and to biologists worried about the loss of species diversity anywhere in the world.

    Of the 426 members of Siberia's isolated Chulym people, only 35 still speak Tuvan, their ancient language, fluently, and they're all older than 50. Everyone else speaks only Russian, according to K. David Harrison, an adventuresome linguist at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Harrison has lived with the Chulym and hopes to preserve their vanishing language.

    The Chulym can fully describe a "2-year-old male castrated rideable reindeer" with only the single word chary, and to Harrison, that not only shows how ancient languages differ from their modern counterparts, but is symbolic of a worldwide loss in important cultural diversity.

    Trying to save Shoshone

    Shoshone tribe also looks to preserve languageLike the Northern Arapaho are attempting to do with the help of a five-year federal grant, members of the Eastern Shoshone are looking for ways to expand the language to children as young as three years old, in hopes that the little ones will grow up with the language and culture their elders might have forgotten.

    The Eastern Shoshone Certification Committee is just beginning to recruit Eastern Shoshone language instructors who would teach children in preschool programs their native language and culture, and expand it later to elementary-aged children and their parents.

    They're also looking to access money from a federal law passed in December that preserves languages once frequently spoken by Indians to pay for some of the instruction.

    February 15, 2007

    Council on Indigenous Languages

    Bill would create council to preserve, promote education of Ojibwe languageAs few as 15 fully fluent Dakota speakers reside in Minnesota and perhaps as few as 50 fluent Ojibwe speakers, according to Margaret Boyer of the Alliance of Early Childhood Professionals and the Dakota Ojibwe Language Revitalization Alliance. But a state council of stakeholders would be established to preserve and promote education of these languages if a bill introduced in the House last Thursday proves successful.

    The bill would create a Council on Indigenous Languages with representatives of 32 stakeholders, including indigenous organizations, academic institutions and 11 tribes. The council would direct development of education programs for children and adults to learn how to speak, read and write in endangered native languages.

    Lifetime of saving languages

    Native languages scholar receives lifetime achievement awardAll over the world, Native languages are threatened, Krauss said. Of the earth's remaining 6,000 languages, he said, about half of them will disappear during this century, with all but the last five or 10 percent dying in the next century. Krauss said he would like to see governments work to stop what he calls the tragic loss of languages.

    "We work to save endangered species, but we don't work to save endangered languages," he said. "It's a lot easier to keep them alive than to bring them back."

    February 07, 2007

    PhD in indigenous language

    Ph.D. program helps to preserve Hawaiian languageThe students in the University of Hawaii at Hilo's first Ph.D. program are working to revitalize the Hawaiian language and culture.

    Five students are enrolled in the new program, which was established this fall for a doctor of philosophy degree in Hawaiian and indigenous language and culture revitalization.

    It's the first doctorate in the United States in a Native language, according to the school.

    February 03, 2007

    CD and Secola promote Ojibwe

    Bringing the Ojibwe language back to life“We have only 12 elders left who speak fluently,” said Drift. “It’s not our language that’s lost; it’s us who are lost.”

    She hopes to help change that with the release of a CD that features Drift pronouncing common Ojibwe words and phrases. A release party for the “Anishinabemoin” CD was held last week at the Bois Forte Heritage Center.

    The CD also features music by national award-winning artist Keith Secola and the contributions of Anishinabe children, including Drift’s granddaughter, Larissa, who recite phrases, sing and play drums.

    January 31, 2007

    Decolonizing Bolivia through language

    In Bolivia, Speaking Up For Native Languages

    Government Push Is Plagued by ControversyThe Bolivian government estimates that 37 percent of the population speaks a native language that predates the arrival of Spanish colonists in the 16th century. Officials hope that language-training programs in public schools and government offices will raise that percentage--but not just for the sake of scholarship. In the words of an Education Ministry informational pamphlet distributed in La Paz this month, promoting those languages is part of a broad effort "to decolonize the mindset and the Bolivian state."

    For Morales, the attempt to elevate languages such as Aymara and Quechua is emblematic of his government's indigenous-based social agenda: It is enormously ambitious, plagued by conflict and difficult to implement.

    After announcing last year that all government employees would have to undergo indigenous language training, Morales's administration sought to require it of public school children as well, no matter where they lived. The proposal riled many in the parts of Bolivia that have little connection to indigenous communities, areas such as the eastern lowlands, where words spoken in Quechua and Aymara are often heard as threats to a way of life.

    January 27, 2007

    Itsy bitsy Alutiiq spider

    Kodiak Natives' album effort to preserve dying languageOver five days last week, Sugpiaq singers with ties to every community on Kodiak Island came together to record songs. Not just childrens songs, but also Christian hymns sung in Alutiiq and Slavonic, and other songs native to Kodiak.

    A CD from the sessions will be available for sale later in the year, and museum workers say demand from visitors already exists.

    January 26, 2007

    The Bible in Cheyenne

    Bible in own language inspires CheyennePeople have been working on the translation for about 30 years. Their cumulative effort has resulted in the translation of at least part of most books of the Bible and the entire books of Luke, 1 John, Philippians, 1 Peter and James.

    The work, Ma'heonemoxe'-estoo'o, which is Cheyenne for Bible, is available in soft- and hard-bound editions and also recorded on cassette tapes and CDs.

    The translation is idiomatic, meaning it is done more in ideas than literally. For example, in the scripture where Abraham made the altar, the translation into the descriptive Cheyenne language is roughly that he piled rocks.
    And how are the Cheyenne people responding?Hearing and now reading the Bible in her own language has changed Verda King's spirituality.

    "A long time ago I tried to read King James," King said. "It wouldn't make sense to me until I heard it in Cheyenne. It struck home with me."

    King, who is among a group of people who have worked on translating the Bible into Cheyenne, said reading the translation has motivated her to "dig deeper" in her spirituality and made the Bible more meaningful.

    January 15, 2007

    Crow losing ground

    Fewer young people speak Crow, CheyenneEconomic, educational and religious pressures from the Anglo culture to assimilate are the reasons Crow is losing ground, Old Horn said.

    Because English is equated with success, there's a negative attitude in the United States toward other languages, he said.

    Speaking Crow also incorrectly has been linked with poor academic performance.

    In fact, studies have show that being multilingual has a positive effect on learning, he said.

    "You hear that schools don't have the time or money to teach students two languages," he said, but, in Europe, children learn several languages.

    Reviving Oneida is a job

    Reviving American Indian language a full-time, paying jobFor a handful of students in this central New York city, reviving an American Indian language is a full-time job.

    At the Ray Elm Children and Elders Center, eight people are being paid to spend 40 hours a week learning their native Oneida language. It's part of an effort to eventually have all 1,200 members of the Oneida Indian Nation speak the language fluently.

    Stories suffer in English

    Translating tales into EnglishThe secret to a story's meaning lies in how the tale is told.

    Told in their original language, Navajo stories are "like eating the best part of the roast beef, the one that you're afraid you'll look like a pig if you ask for it," Navajo storyteller Sunny Dooley said.

    Translated to English, however, the old stories lose some of their richness, she said.

    January 10, 2007

    "Language is a key component"

    Preserving the Apache way though language"Dawa jii’ be’ ant’ ee.” In Apache this means, “Live it every day,” but not everyone in the tribe understands what this means, whether they are full Apache or part, simply because they do not speak or understand Apache.

    To the community of the San Carlos Apache Nation, this message is an outcry to its members to embrace a culture that is fading away, particularly in the area of the Apache language.

    Because of this decline in tribal members speaking Apache proficiently, several community members organized a public meeting for language preservation in the summer of 2006. From this meeting, a coordinator was introduced and a survey process began.

    January 09, 2007

    Aboriginal language broadcasts

    APTN’s “Rez Bluez” Broadcasting in Three Aboriginal LanguagesThe Aboriginal Peoples Television Network has begun broadcasting Rez Bluez in 3 Aboriginal Languages: Anishinabe-Ojibwe; Mohawk and Cayuga. As part of APTN’s commitment to preserving Aboriginal languages, the producers of Rez Bluez, Elaine Bomberry and Aaron Goldman, ensured that all 13-1 hour shows were translated into 3 different Aboriginal languages.

    January 06, 2007

    Songs across America

    Kenai fifth-graders perform Native songs from across continentFifth-graders at Mountain View Elementary School in Kenai used music as a vehicle to take fellow students and parents on a journey across North America's American Indian cultures recently.

    The trip began in the Northeast, with a presentation of a Mohawk song, one that likely originated in the Southeast, and progressed across the Great Plains to the Southwest. The presentation then went to the Pacific Northwest and concluded in Alaska.

    January 05, 2007

    More on The New World

    A language revisited

    Indians and scholars hope to revive the words that once dominated coastal VirginiaIn 2003, director Terrence Malick was preparing to film a movie about Jamestown, "The New World." Blair Rudes, a linguist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, was hired to translate dialogue for Pocahontas' people.

    Rudes started with Colonial-era word lists and scholarly work and filled in the linguistic blanks using better-known Algonquian languages from all over the Eastern Seaboard. One scene with three pages of dialogue took him a month.

    The director loved it. He wanted 50 scenes. Rudes translated in his hotel room for two weeks solid. At the end, people were speaking entire sentences in Virginia Algonquian--or at least a linguist's best guess at it--for the first time in 200 years.

    His work has helped to dispel one of the area's beliefs: that "Chesapeake" means something like "Great Shellfish Bay." It doesn't, Rudes said. The name might mean something like "Great Water," or it might have been a village at the bay's mouth.

    Aboriginals protest language cuts

    Canada's language preservation funding cut strongly protestedHundreds of Natives from across Canada and northern New York marched on Parliament Hill on Dec. 5 demanding that the new government reinstate funding that had been earmarked for language preservation in Native communities. The Department of Canadian Heritage announced in November that it would not be providing the $172 million that Native communities were expecting. Instead, $5 million per year for seven years would be allocated for language purposes.

    "Our people are frustrated and angry," said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine. "And they have a right to be. We feel betrayed and we simply can't be silent about this betrayal."