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As tribal speakers dwindle, a rush to teach their words

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  • As tribal speakers dwindle, a rush to teach their words

    Native American languages at risk

    By Tom Nugent, Globe Correspondent | May 31, 2005

    MT. PLEASANT, Mich. -- After 10 years of teaching Ojibwe 101 to students at Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College, language instructor George Roy says he's more determined than ever to prevent the language of his Native American ancestors from vanishing into history.

    ''The first thing I tell my students at the beginning of each semester is that we're fighting a battle to hold onto our own cultural identity," said the 58-year-old Roy, a member of Michigan's Ottawa tribe. ''Language is the glue that holds our culture together. . . . The stakes are very high, and I think most of us who teach Native American languages and culture in the Great Lakes realize that we're fighting an uphill battle to preserve our own heritage."

    Roy, who often introduces himself to new students as both George Roy and Signaak -- his tribal family name, pronounced ''SIG-ah-Nawk," which means blackbird -- is among Native American speakers and cultural researchers across the Midwest battling to save dozens of increasingly threatened Indian languages from extinction.

    Most of the approximately 40 Native American languages and dialects still being used on reservations and in Native American families in the Midwest are expected to vanish within the next few decades, say linguists, as their last remaining tribal speakers die.

    ''Unfortunately, I think it's going to be very difficult for native Midwestern languages such as Ojibwe and Potawatomi to survive beyond the next 20 or 30 years," said Anthony Aristar, a Wayne State University linguistics researcher who directs a $2 million archival project aimed in part at preserving dying Indian languages in a large database.

    The growing threat to Indian languages of the Midwest is part of a worldwide phenomenon. Linguists say that, on average, a language becomes extinct every two weeks. Many language specialists blame English language television programming and the prevalence of English language software for the decline.

    In an effort to rescue some threatened languages, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation earlier this month announced a $4.4 million program of grants and fellowships designed to preserve both written and spoken elements of more than 70 threatened languages, including more than a dozen Native American languages, before they become extinct. The project, called Documenting Endangered Languages, awarded 13 fellowships and 26 institutional grants for projects ranging from digitizing Cherokee writings in North Carolina to documenting the Kaw language in Oklahoma.

    ''These languages are the DNA of our human culture, and if we lose them, we will be losing a unique and irreplaceable part of our experience," said Bruce Cole, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. ''The scholars tell us there are almost 7,000 languages in the world, and that half of them will probably be lost in the next century."

    Cole said that about 400 of the world's languages now have fewer than 100 fluent speakers each, and that 74 of them are Native American languages in the United States.

    ''I'm not happy about this, because when we lose a language, we also lose a culture," said Aristar. ''But the research shows that there probably won't be any Native American languages left around the Great Lakes by the middle of this century. There are now only 10 or 12 fluent speakers of Potawatomi left in the entire Midwest, for example, and most are elderly. When they die in a few years, they'll probably take the language with them. Losing a language like Potawatomi is a major setback for all of us because in most cases, you also lose the poetry and the songs and the entire oral tradition."

    Many Midwestern Native American languages are disappearing, said Aristar, because Native American parents often insist that their children ''learn the language of the mainstream culture, so they can [find] good jobs and gain economic power."

    Although the 40 Midwestern languages are threatened, according to Aristar, the outlook is brighter for some Indian languages in the American West, where, he said, ''some tribes were not as injured and fragmented as those around the Great Lakes in the 19th century."

    He noted that these larger communities, such as the Navajo in the Southwest, operate their own large colleges and radio stations where the native language is routinely spoken.

    Roland Marmon, a member of the North Dakota Turtle Mountain Ojibwa Tribe who teaches the Ojibwe language and culture to about 30 students each semester at White Earth Tribal and Community College in Mahnomen, Minn., said that non-Native Americans often take his course.

    ''I'd say that about 40 percent of my students are whites in the local community," he said, ''and the payoff for them is that they learn a great deal about the world they grew up in and continue to live in."
    May the Great Spirit's blessings always be with you.

  • #2
    For Kanien'keha(Mohawk Language) there's a few resources, the Survival School in Kahnawake, Yvonne Thomas's Immersion classes, The Immersion Classes in Kanatsiohareke, Kahonwes's Mohawk-Language yahoogroup, Akwesasne has a Survival school as well if I'm not mistaken.
    David Maracle's Books and Tapes, Kahnawake sells Books and Tapes in the cultural center, Jake Thomas Learning Center sells books and tapes.

    Prolly more I can't recall

    Also my little ole Blog/Podcast or if you use iTunes you can subscribe to the Mohawk Language Podcast tho recommend going to the blog to see the spelling of the words you hear in the audio files. Print em out share with yer friends, make em copies of the audio files. I'm also putting together an Audio CD of the Podcasts for folks with Dialup so they don't choke up their connection downloading.

    visit DON'T buy the sampler that's there! It's not done, I've ALOT more files to add to it ;-) Currently only about 20 minutes long.
    O:nen ki' wahi' Bye for now


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