really in a race against time," said Ryan Wilson of the National
Alliance to Save Native Languages.
Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Language Summit: Uniting the Seven Council
Fire to Save the Language has brought together a mix of 400 Native
American educators, language experts and traditional fluent speakers.
They are here to determine how to keep their languages from disappearing.
challenge is about more than words.
is culture, and culture is language," said Chief Cameron Alexis
of the Nakota Sioux from west of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
also was the message of spiritual leader Arvol Looking Horse. At
the summit's opening session, he prayed in Lakota and later spoke
to the group in English about the connections of language, Native
culture and sacred sites.
the traditions at the very core of his people's lives to continue,
the language must be preserved, he said.
age 12, he has been the carrier of the sacred White Buffalo Calf
Pipe. At the summit, he did not show it or use it in ceremonies.
the pipe, seven ceremonies introduced the Lakota nation to its values,
morals and traditions. Yet, language fluency is key to those ceremonies
and songs, he said.
language is used to conduct the ceremonies," he said.
the ceremonies are part of the everyday culture and the distinction
of being Native.
shared fear is the loss of fluent Native speakers. Those people,
mostly elders, are dying; meanwhile, modern media pull youths' attention
from participation in traditional cultural activities, and accepted
schoolhouse teaching methods are failing.
Wyoming's Wind River Reservation, people in the Arapaho Tribe counted
on teaching the language in school, similar to how math and other
classes are taught in a system approved by federal and state regulators.
35 years of teaching at Wind River, not one student is a fluent
speaker. These methods, ... they're not working," Wilson said.
left a lucrative job in Washington, D.C., at the urging of his stepfather
to return to the Wind River Reservation to battle for languages
that are critical for all Native cultures.
said his stepfather saw the answer to capturing fluency by teaching
children in a language-immersion school. With Wilson's help, an
immersion school was funded, built and opened in 12 months. But
it wasn't easy.
is an emotional issue," Wilson said.
can prove to be a divisive community issue with a lot of politics
involved. "Don't get caught up in that debate. We don't have
time for it," he said.
would prefer instructors concentrate on language, rather than curricula
brought to Natives by the state, federal government or the Bureau
of Indian Affairs.
have a right to define what is taught to our children," he
unlike those children taught in his stepfather's school, Wilson
is not a fluent speaker.
Alexis said most of his tribe's members ages 35 and older were fluent
in Nakota, but young people and students, ages 25 and younger, spoke
only a few basic words.
have to get back to our roots. Our young people have to be proud
of who they are," he said.
Charging Eagle agreed. Lakota was her first language, and she learned
English at school, and she said she she is thankful for both languages
because they instill in her a higher plain of thinking.
part of a global community of language," she said.
Eagle was sympathetic to those who experienced the boarding school
punishments and shame when speaking their Native language. However,
she also believes that a nation and its individual members can move
beyond those experiences.
thing that I have learned is that you have to put this into perspective.
I have to ask myself, 'How do I go forward?'" she said.
spirituality, family units, education are all connected with language,
she said. It is tied to culture that is unique in the entire world.
shouldn't be drudgery, but a revelation, she said. "We are
going to learn Lakota because that is who we are."
Jomay Steen at 394-8418 or firstname.lastname@example.org.