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.