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?"