Native American languages will
be taught in Oklahoma public schools and will count as a World
Language credit toward graduation
Becoming a certified
Native American language instructor just got easier.
Dawson, director of World Language Education for the state of Oklahoma,
told attendees of the 3rd Annual Dhegiha Gathering at the Cherokee
Nation Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Aug. 6-7, that Oklahoma is on
their side when it comes to preserving Native American languages.
We went to the superintendent (Janet Baressi, State Superintendent
of Public Instruction) and we told her, we live in Oklahoma and
if we dont do something in Oklahoma about Native American
languages, we should be ashamed of ourselves, Dawson said.
I sat here and heard the stories again, from you today, about
the people in the boarding schools, the people hung from rafters,
about the people when their mouth was washed out with lye soap,
the degradation of culture that was with the grandparents and elders
and it broke my heart, always does, and Im an Okie,
born and bred, and how can we put up with that?
Were representing 39 federally recognized tribes,
we have to do something, Dawson said.
A committee was formed last fall to improve the states
criteria for Native American Language Teacher Certification. That
committee included educators from higher education and public schools,
as well as Native American language instructors from across the
state. They wanted to make the certification process more accessible
for tribal instructors, as well as make it beneficial for public
Janis Carpenter, Osage language instructor for the Osage Nation
Language Program, was on the committee.
Everyones opinions were heard and discussed
the new rules will reduce barriers for teaching Native languages
in public schools and allow students to gain World Language credit
required for graduation, Carpenter said. Currently,
the Osage Nation Language Department has two classes at Pawhuska
High School and one class at Skiatook High School. Nearly 40 students
are learning Osage and earning World Language credit. We hope to
expand our classes in area schools in the future.
Dawson said she recognized that by putting Native American languages
in schools it wasnt going to bring back the culture, but it
could bring back more awareness and understanding to Native cultures
in the state.
How it will work is, the tribe will send us a letter,
telling us what their procedures are to certify an individual. A
portfolio will be put together of the teachers experience
and proficiency, in other words fluency in the language, and what
they have done to teach in the past, Dawson said. All
of that will come to the state department of education, and a school
will request a teacher. Its one of those things, were
giving the tribe the authority to certify, but were giving
the schools some say as well about who they employ.
We will work with the schools and we will work with the
tribes to get teachers certified in programs. We will also ask these
people to go through professional development
to help them
be successful in the classroom, Dawson said.
The new standards will:
- Give tribes authority to say who can teach and who cannot
- Give tribes authority to certify instructors with college
- Give instructors without college degrees a chance to become
certified by assigning a mentor/teacher in the classroom until
they reach highly qualified status to become certified
- Give qualifications to all Native American language courses
as world language credits after teachers become certified with
Thats what we have accomplished with this, a dual
pathway toward graduation credit (for students). We have not set
up the different steps yet, we will be doing that in the very near
future. Were going to start with the tribes that the languages
are already in the schools and work with them first, Dawson
said. The one thing we do not want is to put an elder in the
classroom by himself or herself and have them not be effective.
We dont want to do that to the elder, we dont want to
do that to the students and we dont want to do that to the
school. We want to give them successful experiences.
Charlene Billy, a Ponca language instructor who attended the
Dhegiha Gathering, said her tribe doesnt have much funding
for the classes and they try to focus on teaching the language to
When you have kids and you really love your kids and you
want them to know that, you speak to them and encourage them and
talk to them. I thought it was such a sad thing that my folks couldnt
tell me in Ponca, the language of your heart, not to be able to
tell your kids how much you love them in your own heart language,
Billy said. And thats what I think was a big regret
and I wish I knew my language fluently so I could communicate to
I want our kids to know the beauty of our language.
About the Author
||Shannon Shaw Duty - Editor
Shannon Shaw Duty, Osage, is the editor of the Osage News. She
is a former assignment editor for reznetnews.org, a Native American
news, information and entertainment website. Shaw was also a
reporter at the Santa Fe New Mexican. Shaw is a graduate of
the American Indian Journalism Institute. She is also a Chips
Quinn Scholar and is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma
with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Mass Communication.