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.