August 20, 2013

Tlingit language and culture camp

Camp Near Wrangell Teaches Tlingit Culture, Language

By Shady Grove OliverThe town of Wrangell, once called the “sleeping giant,” has seen an awakening of its native culture and history.

It began with the Shakes tribal house rededication in May. Last month, it hosted both a national traditional foods conference and a Tlingit basketball camp for kids.

In early August, a group of people headed to the original Tlingit settlement 25 miles from present-day Wrangell—for a language and culture camp. It was the first time Tlingit was spoken in Old Town in 65 years.

August 10, 2013

Shoshoni and Bannock immersion school

New charter school puts focus on tribal language

By Nate SunderlandReviving the Shoshoni, and, eventually, the Bannock language, is the goal of the Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy, a language immersion charter school opening this fall in Fort Hall.

"Our native languages are on the verge of becoming extinct because only the older people are speaking (them)," language specialist Merceline Boyer said. "Our younger kids are not picking it up; and it's important because language is our (cultural) identity."

Once the first language of the Shoshone Indians, Shoshoni was replaced by English as the tribe's primary language during the last 50 years. School officials estimate less than 20 percent of tribal members speak the native language. Fewer still, speak the native Bannock language.

School officials hope the charter school will reverse that trend. Although in the same language group, the languages are significantly different. As a result, students will chose to learn either Shoshoni or Bannock.

May 01, 2013

Ojibwe People's Dictionary

Online Ojibwe Dictionary Launched by University of MinnesotaFor those interested in the Ojibwe language, they now have access to an online Ojibwe-English dictionary.

The University of Minnesota's Department of American Indian Studies launched a groundbreaking online Ojibwe dictionary, the Ojibwe People's Dictionary, at Several Ojibwe elders contributed to the development of this unique dictionary.

“This sets the standard for how indigenous languages will be learned and preserved into the future,” said James A. Parente, Jr., dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

The Ojibwe People's Dictionary was conceived as a logical expansion of "A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe," published by the University of Minnesota Press and co-written by John D. Nichols, professor in the American Indian studies department and one of the foremost Algonquian language experts. The printed dictionary contains 7,000 words, but the new website has 8,000 words and could grow to 30,000.

April 26, 2013

Lakota Language Immersion School

Addressing the Lakota language crisis

By Christina RoseWith only 2 to 5 percent of children currently speaking Lakota, Thomas Short Bull, president of the Oglala Lakota College, said the time has come to raise the alarm.

As the day begins at the Lakota Language Immersion School, a young boy passes an abalone bowl of sage to each child sitting on the floor in a circle. Children from kindergarten through third grade gather for the morning ceremony with prayers, songs, and a short discussion of things to know and remember.

Didier Dupont, school coordinator, described the importance of the process. He said, “We have a student whose father was shipped to Afghanistan. We remind everybody to remember her dad in their prayers. During the prayer, listen to the songs in your heart, help each other be good, listen... and the language is there.”

The children in the immersion school do everything that children do in school everywhere; they learn math, science, language arts, gym, music, art and more. The difference is that it is all done in the Lakota language. The academic standards are comparable to other schools, but the school has its own curriculum, designed by the Education Department of the Oglala Lakota College. “We are maintaining a compliance with most of the State standards, but as a private school we don't have to,” DuPont said.

"Where Are Your Keys?"

Language Revival: Interview with Khelsilem Rivers By: Thipiziwin YoungThree years ago I became aware of a language revival method called “Where Are Your Keys?” This dramatically altered my vision on how to become fluent and how to reverse the decline of my ancestral language. It was especially important given the context of Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Sníchim—we have half a dozen fluent speakers left in the world. This is a situation many Indigenous communities face as it is predicted 500 of the world’s languages will go extinct in the next 25 years.

The “Where Are Your Keys?” method though focuses on fluency, rapid language acquisition, visual/auditory/kinesthetic learning styles, and incorporating hand-actions/hand-signs as an aid for memory recall. It has developed a pattern language called “techniques” that are simple but complex so that we can teach people how to teach people. “Language revitalization has two main issues. First is we have no new generations of speakers being raised with the language. The second is that we aren’t creating enough new teachers fast enough.” says Where Are Your Keys? Founder Evan Gardner. Where Are Your Keys? has set out to find a way to solve these two issues. I’ve used the techniques and methods for 3 years and achieved considerable success. There is still more work to do, but it’s on the path towards fluency and full blown language reawakening.

April 18, 2013

"What Should We Put in the Dictionary?"

Play on words: Scholar mulls entries for Native dictionary

By Stacy PrattHow do you say “texting” in Cherokee? Which letters do you use to spell words in an indigenous language that has never been written? Which words go into a dictionary, and who decides?

These were some of the questions discussed in Dr. Pamela Munro’s closing keynote address, “Documenting Native Languages: What Should We Put in the Dictionary?” The presentation was part of the Indigenous Languages Documentation and Revitalization Seminar at the 41st annual Symposium on the American Indian at NSU Friday evening.

Munro was in Tahlequah as the guest scholar for the Oklahoma Workshop on Native Languages, which took place Saturday and Sunday. She is a Distinguished Professor of Linguistics at the University of California-San Diego and the co-author, with Catherine Willmond, of the first Chicksaw language textbook, “Let’s Speak Chickasaw: Chikashshanompa’ Kilanompoli’,” winner of the 2010 Leonard Bloomfield Book Award. She has also published dictionaries and grammar books of the Mohave, Cahuilla, Kawaiisu, Wolof and San Lucas Quiavini Zapotec languages, as well as many other articles and books on languages and linguistics.
And:Munro’s presentation focused on the preliminary questions that must be answered in the beginning of a dictionary’s creation. Some questions, such as which words should be included, were obvious. Others, such as “What counts as a word?” were puzzles more likely to be enjoyed by linguists than the general dictionary user.

But words and spelling are not the only factors involved, Munro said. Human elements also face both writers and users of dictionaries, especially when it comes to dictionaries of indigenous languages spoken by few people.

“What about words that some people don’t want to see in the dictionary?” Munro asked.

April 16, 2013

Tribal college partners with immersion school

Fort Belknap Reservation, White Clay Language is Spoken

By Matt RemleFort Belknap Reservation is the only place in the world where the White Clay language is spoken. In addition to the uniqueness of the language, the White Clay Immersion School is unique because it is based at a tribal college: Aaniiih Nakoda College. Over the past 40 years, the tribal college movement has led the fight for educational self-determination among Indian people. The creation of tribal college-immersion school partnerships represents the next important movement for Indian education. White Clay Immersion School K-8 school on the campus of Aaniiih Nakoda College has established the precedent for this innovative model.

This unique and innovative partnership serves as a model for other American Indian communities faced with the impending loss of Native language(s) and unsatisfactory learning experiences for their children within the local public school system. In this way, the school’s benefits will extend far beyond the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and serve as a model for indigenous communities across the United States and throughout the world.

April 11, 2013

Inuktitut becomes official language

Aboriginal Language Gets Official Status in Nunavut, CanadaAs of April 1, Inuktitut became an official language of Nunavut, putting it on par with English and French in the territory.

“This level of statutory protection for an aboriginal language is unprecedented in Canada,” said the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Culture and Heritage in an April 2 news release.

The passage of the Nunavut Official Languages Act has been five years in the making. This act takes the place of the Northwest Territories Official Languages Act, which recognized only English and French as official languages. The older act did give “a lesser set of rights to seven aboriginal languages, including Inuktitut,” according to Uqausivut, a comprehensive language plan. But, as the plan points out, “This does not reflect the realities of Nunavut, where a majority of people speak neither English nor French as their first language, but a single Aboriginal language.”

April 05, 2013

11th annual Oklahoma language fair

Native American Youth Language Fair has record attendance

By Susan ShannonDr. Mary Linn is the assistant curator for Native Languages at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History in Norman, Oklahoma. This past week the 11th annual Native American Youth Language Fair took place at the Sam Noble Museum.

Dr. Mary Linn has been one of the driving forces behind the Native Youth Language Fair and remembers those early years. “I never dreamed, well I dreamed, I really wanted... I could envision a day when there was so many kids and that they were really using their languages in so many new and creative ways.

"That’s what I wanted. But at first it was hard to envision that there would be that kind of enthusiasm with the younger kids because it did take a while for people, for younger kids to really feel comfortable I think. So when I first started working in Oklahoma in the early 1990's, the language teachers… that was they're biggest concern, that the children did not want to learn the language. They felt that there wasn't the interest with the youth. I don't think that’s the problem at all, it’s like this big snowball rolling down the hill and it’s so big now I don't think it can be stopped. And it’s because of the children, it’s because of the youth. If they want to learn the language they are going to learn it, they're going to find ways to learn it. So I'm really...enthused. And as I said I could dream about it but I think that it’s surpassed my dreams.”

With an all-time high of 921 registered students coming to the Language Fair, that came out to 446 live performance or submissions of posters, books, comic book, poetry and essays, all using native language, which all had to be viewed either prior to the Fair or at the Fair.
Below:  "Chickasaw Nation students perform."

March 31, 2013

Tulalip Tribes' Lushootseed Language Department

For students, Tulalip Tribes' native language a connection to the past

By Gale FiegeThroughout Western Washington, various tribes are working hard to keep the language alive, especially as the elders die, taking with them a firsthand knowledge of Lushootseed.

The women who make up the Tulalip Tribes' Lushootseed Language Department are some of the few who speak it.

Natosha Gobin, 32, has been with the department since she was a Marysville Pilchuck High School student volunteering at the tribes' annual summer language camp. She started her seventh annual language class for families in February; the eight-week class ended on Tuesday.

The women start this final class by practicing in Lushootseed some commands such as "wait," "hurry up," "get ready" and other motherly things they plan to say at home.
Below:  "From left, Katie Hots, 4; Calista Weiser, 5; KC Hots, 7; Irwin Weiser, 8; Kane Hots, 5; and Aloisius Williams, 2, play Monopoly as Natasha Gobin and her spouse, Thomas Williams, make dinner at their home in Tulalip. Gobin, who teaches Lushootseed language classes, asks her children, KC, Kane, Katie and Aloisius, to count in Lushootseed as they play the game." (Genna Martin/The Herald)

March 14, 2013

Celebrating Salish Conference

Tribes keep language alive

Recent conference led by the Kalispels draws hundreds of participants

By Cindy Hval
The unmistakable melody of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” filled the packed room at the Pavilion at Northern Quest Resort and Casino. A trio of women took the stage, executing the iconic dance moves as the lead singer, sequined hat, one glove and all, belted out the song.

The tune was familiar but the words were not.

That’s because the song was performed in Salish at the Salish Karaoke Contest on March 6 during the Celebrating Salish Conference.

More than 400 tribal members from across the Northwest registered to attend the three-day conference. They had much to celebrate. Just a few years ago, the Salish language languished in near oblivion.
Salish conference celebrates language revitalization

By Alyssa NenemayThe conference hosted over 40 workshops, providing attendees insight into immersion teaching techniques, language software, and curriculum. The event also featured keynote presentations from Dr. Bill Cohen of the Okanagan Band who specializes in Indigenous pedagogy--the art and science of teaching--and Native comedian Mitch Factor of the Seminole/Menominee nations.

Aside from the workshops, the conference is gaining recognition for its growing powwow, karaoke contest, and awards/recognitions. The Karaoke contest challenges participants to translate popular music in the Salish language. This year’s winner CeCe Curtis Cook performed a Salish version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which was complete with zombie dancers and a shimmering hand glove.

Amidst the many nations in attendance, residents of the Flathead Reservation participated in the festivities. Local drum group Yamncut performed during the powwow using a drum that had been painted by renowned tribal artist the late George Flett, and elder Pat Pierre was recognized for his many years of teaching.

“The younger people are learning. They’re working to learn more and I think it’s really good. We need to have a lot more of that. More people need to gain interest in what they can do to bring back our language and the ways of our people. This is our identity. We can never lose who we are,” said Pierre.
Below:  "Lawrence McDonald, a Colville and Nez Perce Indian, chats with Kaienna Noel, 3, while dancing in the Celebrating Salish Conference powwow March 7 at Northern Quest Resort and Casino. The three-day conference focused on the revival of the Salish language." (Jesse Tinsley)

February 16, 2013

Yurok language in schools

Yurok language being revivedLast fall, Eureka High became the fifth and largest school in Northern California to offer a Yurok-language program, marking the latest victory in a Native American language-revitalization program widely lauded as the most successful in the state.

At last count, there were more than 300 basic Yurok speakers, 60 with intermediate skills, 37 who are advanced and 17 who are considered conversationally fluent.

If all goes as planned, Lewis' 20 students will move on to a second year of study, satisfying the world language requirement for admission to University of California and Cal State schools.

But the teacher and tribe have some longer-term goals: boosting Native American high school graduation rates and college admissions numbers; deepening the Yurok youths' bonds to their culture; and ensuring that their language will regain prominence after half a century of virtual silence.

February 10, 2013

Ladies Cherokee syllabary watch

Ladies Cherokee Syllabary Watch Available for Valentine's DayLooking for a “timely” gift for that special lady in your life? The Cherokee Nation has got you covered—with a stylish wristwatch that features a Cherokee syllabary motif.

“This one of a kind watch is another way we’re working to promote Cherokee culture to a modern audience,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker in a press release. “Continuing to use the Cherokee syllabary is an important part of preserving our history and language.”

The silver watch features the Cherokee Nation logo and seven-pointed star under the watch hands. The numbers are represented in the Cherokee language around the dial. The watch sells for $85 and is available at the Cherokee Gift Shop in Tahlequah, Oklahoma as well as in the Cherokee Art Gallery at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma and online at

January 30, 2013

Facebooking, Googling, and texting in Cherokee

Can the digital age save the Cherokee language? The halls of Facebook, Google and texting

By Becky JohnsonRapidly firing incomplete sentences on cell phones might not look or feel like the same Cherokee language spoken by fluent elders, but it’s a critical juncture in the race to pass the torch to the next generation of speakers. Putting the language at the fingertips of youth in a format they know means the language is being used in daily life and interactions — which is ultimately the test of a language’s survival.

“Language is something that happens in social interactions between people who hold that language in their minds,” said Hartwell Francis, the director of WCU’s Cherokee language program. “They are not thinking about how they are interacting; they are simply interacting through the language.”

Cherokee language proponents have collaborated with Google to launch a Cherokee language interface and Cherokee language version of GMail. One click of the mouse can switch the language settings to Cherokee for web searches and composing email messages.

The possibilities are vast. Whether it’s Cherokee YouTube videos or skyping with native Cherokee speakers, getting the language into new popular mediums could make the difference in the language surviving or dying down the road.

January 29, 2013

Navajo on KNDN radio

Watching the Navajo language develop in a modern culture

By Jenny KaneKNDN radio, one of three Navajo language radio stations in the Southwest, serves listeners across the Navajo reservation, which spreads across three states: New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

KNDN has roughly 100,000 listeners on any given week. The listeners, for the most part, are among the more than 330,000 Navajo that live in and around the Navajo Nation.

Since KNDN became a full-time Navajo language station in 1978, fans have tuned in, some without a break, to hear the news of the reservation.

"They don't wait," Werito said, noting that he goes on air at 6 a.m. daily and immediately is flooded with calls. "A lot of our people listen. It's where they get their news."

He announces coal allotments, hay and corn distributions, ceremonial events, school board meetings and items lost and found.

While other media report on Navajo news, it is often in English, which some elders do not speak, and it appeals to a different audience. No Navajo-language television shows exist, nor newspapers, though some do use the language fleetingly in their coverage.
Below:  "George Werito of KNDN AM radio in Farmington, N.M." (Jon Austria/ The Daily Times)

January 10, 2013

Preserving Ojibwe hymns

Preserving Ojibwe hymns means more than religious devotion

By Dan GundersonMusic is a time honored part of worship in most religions. For many Ojibwe people in northern Minnesota, hymns are much more than an expression of religious devotion. They represent a unique piece of Ojibwe culture tribal that members are trying to preserve.

White Earth Tribal Chair Erma Vizenor, one of the singers at the service, said it's critical to keep the Ojibwe language alive.

"This is one way we can keep it," she said. "We can use it, we can share it, we can build community with it."

Vizenor grew up with Ojibwe hymn singing and traditional spiritual practices. She remembers neighbors gathering in her grandparents' tiny two-room home to sing, and her grandparents explaining traditional ceremonies.

Although Christian clergy tried to end traditional Indian spiritual practices, Vizenor said, the native-language hymns the church brought the reservation have become part of the complex Ojibwe culture.
Below:  "Parishioners gather for a service at St. Columba Episcopal Church in White Earth, Minn. on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013." (MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson)