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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 18, 2003 - Issue 98


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Blending Native Language, Education & Culture

by Rosanda Suetopka Thayer - TC District Media Team

Warming UpTUBA CITY — With linguistic statistical studies proving Native American languages are in danger of becoming extinct and used less on a daily conversation basis, many tribes are starting to take drastic steps to ensure that their culture and language does not die.

Tuba City Unified School District No. 15 sees tribal language loss as a serious issue for its 3,000-plus students and, on Sept. 24, devoted its annual Cultural Symposium to the idea of integrating tribal language in every aspect of curriculum activity. More than 26 presenters gave individual session workshops at the Tuba City High School as an annual in-service for its more than 500 staff members. Parents and the public in the surrounding Tuba City District area also participated in the sessions.

The workshops addressed traditional technique and art forms, native consideration in modern research, cross parallels of different tribal cultures and native ways to relieve stress in the home and workplace. The importance of student character building using native language and traditional cultural considerations was another area of emphasis.

TCUSD Associate Superintendent Dr. Harold G. Begay, who gave an opening address, spoke to the very heart of tribal language concerns.

"It seems rather strange that there are many people across the U.S. today wanting formal status as federally-recognized tribes," he said. "There are pending court litigations, on-going federal appeals for recognition as an Indian tribe, and each day we're seeing more and more people of diverse backgrounds who have this desire to be recognized as indigenous peoples. "Meanwhile, we are also seeing more and more documentation about major indigenous language crisis or language decline and loss. Is this why we seeing more and more quest for formal Federal tribal recognition? This may be the beginning of a major pan-national tribal cultural renaissance.

TCUSD Associate Superintendent Dr. Harold G. BegayDr. Begay pointed out revenue's role in native culture's revival.

"It is pretty evident that the current resurgence in tribalism by many people across our nation is driven not by culture and language interest and revival but more by casino revenues, the potentially high profitable economics of tribalism," he said. Is there a lesson to be learned from this?

"Maybe if our language and culture had a price tag, or if there were dollars associated with it, we as speakers of our indigenous languages would have a thriving economy or even be millionaires."

Dr. Begay explained that the presenters would share their thoughts on the non-commercial aspects of sustaining our native language and culture.

"We could also dialogue on the potential profitability of native language and cultures, seeing how we are an educational institution," he said. "As an educational institution, it is important that we take the lead in shedding light on the value of our language and culture."

Dr. Begay stressed the importance of retaining native language.

"You may also hear or have heard quite often that our language and culture are priceless," he said. "If that is the case, why is it so expensive to have a traditional ceremony?"

"With English education, learning their language and culture is not priceless but rather, it is extremely expensive in more ways than one, especially with us as native peoples. There is a huge exacting cost incurred when we are native peoples lose ourselves in English education."

According to Dr. Begay, there are many questions to raise on the value of native language.

"As you go about the country, we often hear other nationalities converse with their young in their native tongue," he said. But, with our native peoples, we seem to make it a point to converse with our children in only one foreign language, the English language. Why?"

"I am hoping that today's speakers and presenters will allow us the opportunity to dialogue on the value of our native language and culture, not only for the present, but for years to come."

Tuba City District currently has a Navajo language program developed for grades kindergarten to 12th grade and, in the spring of 2004, will implement a Hopi language program for its junior high and high school students. The Hopi language classes have been a long time in coming and have been highly anticipated by its TC High's Hopi student population. The focus of this Hopi language project will be to provide an educational support from the TC district for a teen population to be fluent in everyday Hopi conversation.

The materials and curriculum developed for Tuba City District will be under the guidance and support the Hopi Tribe's Hopi Lavayi Project, Emory Sekaquaptewa, a professor of linguisitics at the University of Arizona in Tucson; and Sheila Nicolas, the director of American Indian Language Development Institute also located in Tucson.

Tuba City District also designated last week Dual Language Week and encouraged all indigenous speaking people working at TC district to speak in their native language only. The idea was to help heighten the awareness and importance of maintaining and supporting original language and allowing the student population to hear languages from countries all around the world as well as their own local tribal languages.

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