"We've had language programs here for a long time," said Sheri Beglen, a teacher in the Oneida's program. "But they were once a week for adults, or a half-hour after school for kids. You just can't learn a language one day a week.
"To learn a language, you have to hear it, use it constantly," said Beglen, who was among the first eight graduates of the Oneida program, now in its fourth year.
Gerald Hill, president of the Indigenous Language Institute in Santa Fe, N.M., said while virtually all the more than 300 recognized American Indian tribes have some type of language program, they vary dramatically in approach and effectiveness. Hill said he was unaware of any other tribes paying members to learn the language as a full-time job.