administration pulls together Nation's resources and extensive language
family to create a strategic plan for language immersion
By Geneva HorseChief-Hamilton, Osage Nation Communications
Geoffrey Standing Bear
Pawhuska, OK (Feb. 19, 2015) The state of Osage language
preservation has reached a critical point and Osage Nation Chief,
Geoffrey Standing Bear, just months after his inauguration, is making
Osage language immersion a priority. The Chief's plans include the
continued collaboration of the Osage Nation Language Program with
Dhegiha speakers, other relevant departmental resources, and the
language immersion methods and instructors from other Dhegiha nations.
On Thursday, the newly formed task force designed to address
the language needs met with representatives from other Dhegiha language
immersion efforts. including Alice Saunsoci, Umónhon (Omaha)
language instructor at Nebraska Community College in Macy, Nebraska,
her son Frank "Logan" Saunsoci, also an instructor, Michael Berger,
a grant writer for the language immersion program at NCC, and Wyatt
Thomas, Director of Native Studies at NCC.
The Dhegiha branch of the Siouan language family stock includes,
Ponca, Kansa, Quapaw, Osage and Omaha. The Dhegiha people migrated
southwest from the northeast Atlantic coast. Early settlements are
evident in Virginia and the Carolinas. During the 1600s to1700s
the Dhegiha people divided and some moved south branching out in
different directions becoming the separate and distinct nations
represented today. However, the Dhegiha nations still share a common
language, some cultural customs, values, and stories.
The WahZhaZhi Cultural Center hosted a small traditional Osage
style dinner for the Umónhon visitors on Wednesday. "[The
meal] was just a small way to welcome them to our nation," said
Vann Bighorse, Director of the Cultural Center.
"Right now, it's just a collaboration to strengthen our language.
I think [the Umónhon] have a lot to offer because they still
have speakers," he added. Bighorse said the goal is to be able to
teach conversational Osage language and filling in the blanks is
where the other Dhegiha speakers can assist.
Bighorse said the Osage Nation Language Program first reached
out to the Umónhon in 2006 and 2007 and since then the Language
Program has played an integral part in reconnecting with other Dhegiha
Standing Bear said Ponca and Umónhon language instructors
will supplement the Nation's language program.
Alice Saunsoci's first language is Umónhon. She said
she went to a boarding school as a child and was restricted from
speaking her language but she and other children from other tribes
could understand each other sometimes because they also spoke a
Siouan language dialect. They found places to speak their languages
in private. It was a stark difference from collaborative efforts
She said with confidence that the Osage Nation would have fluent
speakers again through language immersion efforts, "it won't be
the same language spoken, you know, before, everything changes,
but it will be Dhegiha."
Language Loss by the Numbers
- 34.3 percent of the world's languages are losing speakers
- 29.2 percent of people speak one of six languages
- 20 percent of those who speak American indigenous languages
live in two counties (one in Arizona and one in New Mexico)
- 12.9 percent of the world's languages are deemed "moribund"
or worse by the website Ethnologue
- 11.7 percent of Native Americans age 5 to 17 speak their
indigenous language at home, compared with 22.7 percent for natives
age 65 and older
- No counties in Nebraska and one county in Iowa (Tama) have
more than 500 speakers of an indigenous language
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau 2006-10 American Community Survey
and Ethnologue: Languages of the World