Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
April 22, 2000 - Issue 08

Indian Children Find Forum
To Perform In Their Own Language

by Brendan Smith staff writer AbqJournal

For almost a century, government and mission boarding schools for Indian children sought to extinguish a vibrant culture by forbidding the speaking of native languages and the practice of tribal religions.

"Kill the Indian, save the man," was the motto of Gen. Richard Pratt, founder of the first off-reservation federal boarding school in 1879. Because of this stifling legacy, many Native American children today don't speak their native language, said Inée Yang Slaughter, executive director of the Santa Fe-based Institute for the Preservation of the Original Languages of the Americas.

"It was a U.S. government policy to assimilate the people," Slaughter said Saturday. "When children no longer speak or use the language, it's considered an endangered language."

The institute held its Second Annual Native American Youth Language Fair & Pow Wow at the Santa Fe Indian School to showcase the talents of Native American children in speaking and performing in their native languages.

The language fair grew from just six contestants last year to about 150 this year from pueblos and reservations across New Mexico, said Santa Fe actor Wes Studi, a Cherokee who has appeared in many movies including "Last of the Mohicans." Studi, who was honored last year by the institute for his work in language preservation, served as master of ceremonies Saturday.

"It's becoming a popular event," Studi said. "Language doesn't have to be something serious. It can be fun to do."

Each contestant, ranging in age from 8 to 19, received a medal and a gift, with additional awards in three age categories.

Autumn Gomez, 13, and her 9-year-old brother, Matthew, gave a puppet show with 8-year-old Julian Wahnee. The trio, who take Comanche language lessons in Santa Fe, sang the alphabet and some numbers in Comanche before offering a Comanche rendition of "Old McDonald Had a Farm."

"We are all going to speak Comanche again," Autumn told the audience after the puppet show. "From now on, we're going to speak Comanche forever." Autumn said she became interested in learning the language from her grandmother, who speaks Comanche fluently.

The youths participating in the fair had to work with teachers, parents or other relatives to create their presentations in about 20 Native American languages, so the fair is a "wonderful community-building activity," Slaughter said.

The Institute for the Preservation of the Original Languages of the Americas hopes to expand and hold more Native American language fairs in other parts of the country, Slaughter said.

Out of 300-plus original Native American languages, only 175 still exist.

During an intermission Saturday afternoon, Blue Star Singers, a group of five teen-age girls from Santa Fe, sat around a large drum, beating a rhythm while they sang, their voices rising in unison.

The language fair, which was followed by an intertribal powwow with gourd dancing, is meant to instill pride in Native American children in using their native language, Slaughter said.

Learn more about this organization:
Institute for the Preservation of Languages

Find out about the Comanche Language
and Culture

The Comanche Language and Cultural Preservation Committee

Comanche Nation

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