January 30, 2011

Documentary on reviving Wampanoag

We Still Live Here

An Interview with Anne Makepeace

By Matt Kettmann
Former Santa Barbara resident and Emmy Award winner Anne Makepeace returns to SBIFF with her latest documentary, We Still Live Here (Âs Nutayuneân), which is a perfect-for-PBS look at the Wampanoag people’s quest to revive their ancestors’ language. These New Englanders find help and inspiration in the oddest of places, and the viewer comes to quickly realize that the value of dead languages just might be infinite.

She recently answered some questions via email.

How did you find out about this revival?

I grew up in New England and, like most Americans, I had never heard of Wampanoag, did not know that they were “the Indians” who helped the Pilgrims to survive, and was completely unaware that any of these Indians still lived on their homelands in Massachusetts. Then, in 2006, I was hired by the American Experience series at WGBH to produce the first of a five-part series about Native Americans called “We Shall Remain.” My part was about the Wampanoag and the first English settlers in New England: the Pilgrims (and later Puritans) in 17th Century Massachusetts. It was while working on this project that I got to know Jessie Little Doe Baird, her family, and other members of the Wampanoag Nation. Learning about their history was a complete revelation to me, and I was amazed by Jessie’s story and the work the community was doing to bring back their language. When things fell apart with WGBH, I decided that the film I really wanted to make was the unprecedented story of the resurrection of the Wampanoag language.

What drew you personally to the material?

I have always been interested in Native Americans, and some of my films, notably Ishi the Last Yahi and Coming to Light, are on Native American subjects. Jessie’s story of resurrection, especially after learning about their devastating and largely unknown history, drew me so powerfully, partly I think because of my own background—I am descended from those Puritan settlers who co-opted Wampanaog lands or worse—and partly because of the intensely passionate dedication and commitment that Jessie and others have for bringing their language home.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

January 27, 2011

Revitalizing languages may backfire

Author Examines the Social Roots and Practical Implications of Language Preservation Efforts

By Abby MogollónThe author succinctly and with good humor critiques language revitalization efforts, even while she is an active and enthusiastic participant in state-sanctioned revitalization efforts. “Generally, researchers have assumed that revaluing heritage languages and their speakers will always have a positive effect on revitalization efforts,” Meek writes, “but in the case of Kaska, the opposite appears to be true. The goal of trying to re-create Kaska as a legitimate, revitalized language has led to the emergence of specialized roles marked by linguistic expertise, thus restricting the production of Kaska to those select few—in particular, university-trained linguists and bureaucrats—who are authorized to manufacture it.” (p. 134)

In her book, Meek raises several provocative discussion points when considering endangered language revitalization efforts:

  • The problem of marginalizing potential speakers

  • Languages that become a “language of the elders”

  • Why the media talks about “the death of languages” and what that means for Native languages

  • The rhetoric of “saving” Native languages, relegating Indigenous languages to that of an object

  • Meek does not just offer critique. She also suggests ways communities can work to maintain their languages. Here are just a few of her suggestions:

  • See the age of 40 as the new 2 (remove the assumption that language must be learned in youth)

  • Find ways for elders and new speakers to weave together different events and experiences into a tapestry of on-going interpretation, rather than fixed conversations of passing down historical information

  • Redefine what we consider “success” in language revitalization
  • January 22, 2011

    Cherokee language basketball teams

    Cherokee-speaking students form hoops teams

    By Craig HenryNo, this isn’t some run-of-the-mill basketball game. This game involves one of the Cherokee Language Immersion Program’s basketball teams. And just like the rest of the LIP, basketball is taught exclusively using the Cherokee language.

    “Everything goes hand-in-hand, and we’re just trying to provide more opportunities for every child at immersion,” said LIP Principal Holly Davis. “All of our activities are in Cherokee, and we hope to just expand on it yearly. We’re looking at something new to add every year.”

    The boys and girls teams are comprised of 19 students in third, fourth and fifth grades. Though the basketball program was formed in 2009, the 2010-11 season is the first the teams competed with area schools.

    “I think it’s a good outlet to use the language out in the community,” said Jeromie Hammer, LIP physical education coach, said. “It teaches the kids about competition, dedication. I think that it gives the language a little action.”

    January 21, 2011

    Inupiaq version of Rosetta Stone

    Natives team with software maker in language project

    By Kyle HopkinsThe North Slope Borough and Rosetta Stone software company plan to unveil a program this spring specially designed to teach the North Slope Inupiaq dialect, using the photos and voices of Inupiaq people recorded in Barrow.

    There are as few as 1,500 fluent speakers of Inupiaq in Alaska, estimates Fairbanks linguist Michael Krauss. Once, it was the primary language of the northern and northwest regions of the state.

    Barrow-born Edna MacLean, a former Inupiaq professor for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, spent two years working on the Inupiaq program. She translated thousands of words and phrases from English to the North Slope Inupiaq dialect of the Inuit language.

    The job is nearly done. Soon the program will be available to schools and households. Just in time for Inupiaq language experts like MacLean, 66.

    January 17, 2011

    Nanabush videos teach Ojibwe

    Walking and Talking with NanabushThe Ojibwe Cultural Foundation invites you to walk and talk with Nanabush. Nish Tales: Walking and Talking with Nanabush is a language learning and story sharing site for kids and adults wishing to learn Ojibwe. Nanabush’s humorous escapades and great adventures have entertained generations of Anishnaabe and helped preserve our language. Nish Tales: Walking and Talking with Nanabush is a web site created to do the same. Here we use the humourous adventures of Nanabush to help people learn some basic Ojibwe.

    There are two Nanabush stories now on the site: The Power of the Skunk and Nanabush Loses the Meat. The stories are presented as animated clips, text and audio files . All media is in a bilingual format for reading, listening and watching.

    More entertaining stories of Nanabush and more language learning content will be added in the coming months.

    Who Is Nanabush?

    Nanabush is the main character in many Ojibwe legends and is as old as the Ojibwe language itself. He was sent to teach the Anishinaabeg how to live. His mother was Anishinaabe-kwe and his father a spirit. Being half spirit he had amazing abilities. But being half human, he had the virtues and flaws that people have and often could not control his humanly wants and needs.

    Nanabush could be selfish or generous; cowardly or brave; caring or spiteful; always curious and mischievous and often his own worst enemy. Sometimes he daringly saved the Anishinaabek, other times he caused them everlasting hardship. Nanabush walked all over Turtle Island. His many humorous escapades and great adventures explained the natural world, entertained generations of Anishnaabe and helped preserve the Ojibwe language. He remains an important figure in Anishnaabe culture. Nish Tales: Walking and Talking with Nanabush looks at the humourous and fun side of some of his adventures.
    Comment:  The videos use limited, cartoon-style animation. The watercolor backgrounds are nice, as are the sound effects and music. The tales are cute and short enough to hold one's attention.

    All in all, I'd say these videos are an effective teaching tool.

    January 16, 2011

    Mohawk on the Nintendo

    Embracing Technology to Teach Native Language

    By Vincent SchillingRoss talked about the technological offerings by the tribe to help tribal members learn Mohawk, specifically, the Can 8 online learning system, the Nintendo DSi and Rosetta Stone Mohawk language software.

    The Can 8 computerized language system, which was created by the Akwesasne Economic Development Agency, a nonprofit organization that delivers employment and training services to the Mohawk community, “an interactive, multimedia tool used extensively for the instruction of most languages around the world and a virtual language learning system that provides students and community members alike with the ability to learn and reinforce their own language learning at their own comfort level.”

    Ross sees Can 8, a program that teaches her grandchildren, as “really amazing.”

    January 15, 2011

    Navajo-language radio stations

    Riding the waves:  Navajo listeners, broadcasters use radio to preserve language

    By Alysa LandryHighly publicized and expensive efforts to preserve and revitalize the Navajo language are widespread on the sprawling, 27,000-square-mile reservation, yet one of the most ubiquitous modes of preservation also is one of cheapest.

    Anyone with a battery-powered radio can listen to any of a handful of Navajo language stations that cover the reservation with sound waves.

    Locals tune in to KNDN, the Navajo language radio station based in Farmington. They also can listen to AM stations KTNN, out of Window Rock, Ariz.; KGAK, out of Gallup; or FM station KTDB, out of Pine Hill.
    Below:  "KNDN host Tommie Yazzi, long-time host George Werito and station manager Kerwin Gober stand in the broadcasting room at KNDN last week." (James B. Hale/The Daily Times)

    January 07, 2011

    Multimedia Ojibwe translations

    New online resources offer Ojibwe, English translations

    Shared Vision member Michael Meuers is “absolutely psyched” about what was unveiled Monday.

    By Anne Williams
    Shared Vision member Michael Meuers is “absolutely psyched” about what was unveiled Monday.

    Ojibwe translations for nearly 100 English phrases common to Northern Minnesota are now available online and on campus at Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College.

    The multimedia materials, which include paper form and audio clips, are part of a collaborative effort between Shared Vision and BSU. Shared Vision is an organization dedicated to improving relations between American Indians and non-Indians in the community.

    A poster designed by BSU’s Office of Communications and Marketing provides a list of English words and their Ojibwe equivalents in nine categories such as “Expressions,” “Trees” and “North Country.”

    January 05, 2011

    Eyak word of the week

    Help preserve the Eyak language by visiting new websiteThe Eyak Language Project's "Word of the Week" went live online Jan. 1 as part of an effort to preserve the indigenous Southcentral Alaska language whose last native speaker, Cordova-born Chief Marie Smith Jones, died in 2008. The Word of the Week gives everyone a chance to participate, says the homepage for the project, directed by Anchorage filmmaker Laura Bliss Spaan. "Whether you learn a few words that mean something to you or endeavor to become fluent, your efforts will mean that this irreplaceable way of speaking and thinking about the world will never be lost."

    The first featured word is "iishuh," the Eyak equivalent of "hello."