committed to preserving conversational skills
Everyone must participate in Margaret Snow's "talking
circle" when the fifth- graders introduce themselves using
the Menominee language that's a rule.
students easily pronounce the words, repeating their name, clan
and hometown as quickly as they can recall it. But it's more of
a challenge to others who may not have been as exposed to the native
just want them to try," said Snow, one of two language teachers
at Keshena Primary School. "With these words they can communicate
with each other, so it's important they have a chance to show they
can remember their introductions."
third-grade students learn to talk about the weather in the Menominee
language, and then recite a traditional prayer. Her fifth-graders
focus on their conversational skills.
other native languages across the state and the country, Menominee
is on the endangered list. Fewer than 20 fluent first-language speakers
of the language remain in Wisconsin.
the Menominee Indian School District, the public school system that
serves the reservation, is committed to creating as many second-language
learners as they can, superintendent Wendell Waukau said. All elementary
and middle school students are required to learn Menominee. In high
school, the language becomes an elective.
definitely continually improving but more work needs to be done,"
said Waukau, adding that funding from the state certainly would
Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster has requested $250,000 in the
2009-2011 biennial Department of Public Instruction budget to use
as grants so Native American languages can be taught in public schools.
The money for the program is taken from tribal gaming revenues paid
to the state.
been strong support for tribal language programs," said J.P.
Leary, American Indian Studies consultant with the Department of
Public Instruction. "In a lot of cases there are after-school
or community-based programs this may be an opportunity to
take that and bring it to the schools."
tribal languages often are taught in tribal schools such as the
Oneida Nation schools and in community settings, few programs exist
to teach the languages in a public school setting.
Ron Corn Jr. attended Menominee High School, he had a fluent-speaking
Menominee mentor who encouraged him to pursue the language beyond
what the school offered. Today, Corn is one of two language teachers
at the high school, teaching advanced level classes.
is the first advanced classes we've offered in years," Corn
said Tuesday. "But there is a stigma on carrying the language
outside the classroom, which is what we need to encourage."
the elementary classes many of them graduated from, high school
students focus on vocabulary. For many years, without a teacher
at the middle school level, there was a gap between what students
picked up in the elementary school and when they entered high school,
whose children have started speaking the language at an early age,
finds one of the challenges is in making the language a living product,
not just an in-classroom language.
consensus on learning languages is that you learn the numbers, animals,
a few phrases," Corn said. "I'm trying to buck that trend."
classes are working on translating English books into Menominee,
building up vocabulary and putting together a documentary. Corn
also is trying to put together a nonprofit organization in the community
to provide opportunities for all members of the tribe to learn about
the language and culture.
tribe already has a language and culture commission that trains
teachers, produces classroom material and offers language classes
for elders, said Karen Washinawatok, director of the commission.