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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 31, 2003 - Issue 88


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Preserving Native Language

by Brenna Doheny Oregon State University Barometer Staff Writer

Art by Lelend BellGlobal development has a detrimental impact on more than just natural resources. Native languages and cultures are becoming increasingly endangered by the globalization trend.

OSU is hosting the second annual conference on Native American language preservation in hopes of saving native languages from extinction.

"For a number of reasons that go back beyond the 19th century, these languages have been progressively jeopardized," said Joseph Krause, chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

Krause compared language extinction to the disappearance of a species in the environment. "That disappearance has an effect on the larger ecosystem," he said. Similarly, "when a language disappears, a lot disappears with it."

The conference will focus on preservation strategies, including curriculum development and methods for archiving languages. The applications of technology to language education, through such methods as language software, video production and distance education will be addressed.

Krause expects a large delegation from the Native American community to attend and hopes that each of the 10 recognized tribes in Oregon will be represented. Native Americans from Montana, Arizona, Canada and Alaska will also be in attendance.

The theme of the conference is "Speaking to the Seventh Generation." "We are looking toward the future," Krause explained.

"Languages will disappear unless something is done to have the younger generation learn them," he said. "If something is done, the seventh generation will still be speaking them."

The Oregon state government is aware of the plight of native languages. Senate Bill 690, passed last year, allows for special teacher certification procedures for native speakers to help bring language programs to schools.

"Some of the only remaining speakers of Wasco, for example, may be in their 60s or 70s and won't go through the normal procedures of getting a teacher's certification," Krause explained.

The new certification program, approved last summer, recognizes the sovereignty of Native American tribes. If an applicant has the tribe's authorization, "the process of obtaining a certificate is expedited," Krause said.

Only a few speakers have gone through the certification process thus far, however, and non-native language teachers are somewhat opposed to the program.

"One of the fundamental purposes of the conference is so growth can occur between native and non-native language teachers," Krause said.

The conference will begin with an opening convocation at noon Thursday in LaSells Stewart Center, and lectures and workshops will continue until the last lecture at 7 p.m., resuming at 9 a.m. on Friday.

The conference will conclude on Friday with a presentation of "Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner,"a film that won Camera D'Or at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. Lucy Tulugarjuk, who starred in the film and won Best Actress at the American Indian Film Festival, will give an introduction to the film. The screening will begin at 6 p.m. at Milam Auditorium.

All of the conference events are free and open to the public.

Roylene Keouli, external coordinator of the Native American Longhouse at OSU, understands the plight of native languages. "The Hawaiian language is dying," she said.

Keouli, a native Hawaiian Islander, speaks Hawaiian because she learned it through six years of language courses at a school for natives. She explained that the general population speaks English or Japanese.

Through higher education and the use of technology, the prevalence of the Hawaiian language is increasing, she said.

"Before there were only 400-500 native speakers," Keouli said. "Now the number is increasing, but [the Hawaiian language] is still not common."

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

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