Canku Ota Logo
Canku Ota
Canku Ota Logo
(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
pictograph divider
Oklahoma Standards For Native American Language Instructors Changed
by Shannon Shaw Duty - Osage News

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.

Desa 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 don’t 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 I’m an Okie, born and bred, and how can we put up with that?

“We’re representing 39 federally recognized tribes, we have to do something,” Dawson said.

A committee was formed last fall to improve the state’s 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 schools.

Janis Carpenter, Osage language instructor for the Osage Nation Language Program, was on the committee.

“Everyone’s 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 wasn’t 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 teacher’s 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. It’s one of those things, we’re giving the tribe the authority to certify, but we’re 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 degrees
  • 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 the state

“That’s 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. We’re 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 don’t want to do that to the elder, we don’t want to do that to the students and we don’t 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 doesn’t have much funding for the classes and they try to focus on teaching the language to their children.

“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 couldn’t 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 that’s what I think was a big regret and I wish I knew my language fluently so I could communicate to my kids … 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, 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 bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication.
pictograph divider
Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us
Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us
pictograph divider
  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.  
Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000 - 2013 of Vicki Williams Barry and Paul Barry.
Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo
The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the
Copyright © 1999 - 2013 of Paul C. Barry.
All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!